Asia Pacific

High-level Chinese defector provides intelligence trove to Australia, report says

AFP-JIJI

A Chinese defector involved in spying operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia has provided a trove of intelligence on China’s political interference operations to Australian officials, according to a media report Saturday.

The Nine network newspapers said the defector, named as Wang “William” Liqiang, had given Australia’s counterespionage agency the identities of China’s senior military intelligence officers in Hong Kong and provided details of how they fund and conduct operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.

Wang said he was personally involved in infiltration and disruption operations in all three territories, including the kidnap of one of five Hong Kong booksellers who were taken to the mainland and interrogated on suspicion of selling dissident materials.

Nine said that Wang, in interviews with The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers and the U.S. TV news program “60 Minutes,” had “revealed in granular detail” how Beijing covertly controls listed companies to fund intelligence operations, including the surveillance and profiling of dissidents and the co-opting of media organizations.

Nine said Wang is currently living in Sydney with his wife and infant son on a tourist visa and has requested political asylum.

He said in an interview to be aired Sunday night that he would be executed if he returned to China.

“Once I go back, I will be dead,” he says through a translator in a clip from “60 Minutes” shown on Nine’s websites Saturday.

According to the news organization, Wang gave a sworn statement to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in October saying: “I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities.”

This allegedly included infiltrating Taiwan under an assumed identity and with a South Korean passport to run local operatives in efforts to meddle in 2018 municipal elections and presidential polls due next year.

Wang said he also was part of an intelligence operation hidden within a listed company that infiltrated Hong Kong’s universities and media to counter the pro-democracy movement.

He said his role in the clandestine organization included infiltrating all Hong Kong universities and directing bashings and cyberattacks against dissidents.

Wang claimed to have had responsibility for recruiting mainland students to infiltrate Hong Kong universities and student associations. “I influenced them with patriotism, guiding them to love the country, love the party and our leaders and fight back strongly against those independence and democracy activists in Hong Kong,” he said.

“They found out information about those pro-independence activists … and made public all their personal data, their parents’ and family members,'” he was quoted as saying.

Wang also reportedly said he had met a high-ranking intelligence operative he believed was conducting spy operations in Australia via a front company in the energy sector. “He told me at the time he is based in Canberra. I know his position is very important,” he was quoted as saying.

The report did not provide additional details on operations in Australia, but is likely to exacerbate already high alarm over Chinese espionage and influence operations in the country.

ASIO warned earlier this year that the threat of foreign interference was “unprecedented” and that the number of foreign spies in Australia was higher than during the Cold War.

The agency has never publicly named China in its warnings.

But the former head of the agency, Duncan Lewis, who retired in September, said in an interview published Friday that China wanted to “take over” Australia’s political system with an “insidious” and systematic campaign of espionage and influence-peddling.