Beijing says Australians are spying on China as Canberra investigates P.R.C. influence allegations

Foreign Affairs

Beijing is fighting back against Australia, after the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) conducted an unprecedented raid of the house of a Labor Party politician last week. As part of a state-backed campaign, the Global Times said it had evidence of an Australian spy — caught "red-handed" with a map, compass, and cash — in Shanghai.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) conducted an unprecedented raid of the house of a Labor Party politician, Shaoquett Moselmane, last week on Friday. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, it was “searching for evidence to support allegations of a Chinese government plot unfolding on Australian soil.”

If sufficient evidence is found, “the inquiry could ultimately result in an Australian and world first: a prosecution for foreign interference offenses arising from an alleged covert Chinese Communist Party plot to influence a serving politician.”

Beijing seems ready to fight back. Nationalist rag the Global Times says that “a Chinese law-enforcement agency…arrested agents who work for Australian security intelligence agencies.” The iron-clad evidence of their espionage activities, according to the Global Times’ “source,” is this:

The Australian spies caught red-handed also had a compass, a USB flash disk, a notebook, a mask, gloves, and a map of Shanghai. On the notebook, there was some English handwriting about addresses, which are relevant to their operations.

The report is part of a government campaign. Although the Global Times is not an official mouthpiece, it often signals Communist Party intentions. To confirm this, a Global Times reporter asked a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson at a briefing today about the report. He replied, “I am afraid that what is revealed by the Global Times this time is just the ‘tip of the iceberg.’”

Context

Australia has been on high alert about foreign influence from Beijing since mid-2017, when media investigations revealed avenues of Communist Party influence, often through the United Front Work Department, in both the Labor and Liberal parties. Significant events since then include:

The newest development comes amid a historic low in Australia-China relations, as Beijing has punished Canberra repeatedly for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s advocating for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in China.