Australia probes Chinese political interference plot

By Darryl Coote

Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday allegations that China attempted to plant an agent in the Australian government were "deeply disturbing and troubling" and were under investigation.

On Sunday, Australian TV media aired a report that China allegedly offered Nick Zhao, a luxury car dealer, money to run for parliament on a Melbourne suburban seat.


His body was found in a Melbourne motel in March after he reportedly took the information to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

Morrison cautioned the public not to leap to any conclusions but that Australia "is not naive" to the threats it faces and has beefed up its resources and established the Department of Home Affairs to place the country in the best posture possible to deal with such a situation.

"I can assure Australians that under our government, the resources have never been stronger, the laws have never been tougher and the government has never been more determined to keep Australians free and safe from foreign interference," he said.

Following the report, ASIOS Director-General Mike Burgess released a rare statement, saying they are taking the allegations "seriously."


"Australians can be reassured that ASIO was previously aware of matters that have been reported today, and has been actively investigating them," Burgess said. "However, in accordance with long-standing practice, I will not comment on this particular operational matter, including any detail of the individuals involved."

He said hostile foreign intelligence agencies pose a threat to the country and that ASIO will "continue to confront and counter" their espionage efforts.

The allegations came amid heightened concern over China attempting to influence Australian politics.

Last week, former ASIO head Duncan Lewis accused China in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald of attempting to "take over" Australia's political system through winning influence in social, business and media environments.

China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang responded to Lewis' accusations, saying that Australians should have "a little more confidence in their political system."

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