Politicial Bribes

Home of Australian politician raided in Chinese influence investigation

SYDNEY, Australia – Australian authorities on Friday raided the home and office of a state lawmaker as part of a broad-based investigation into allegations of a Chinese government conspiracy to manipulate the country’s politics and politics.

Shaoquett Moselmane, a Labor politician from a Sydney suburb, recently praised China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, a message starkly at odds with the Australian government’s subsequent call for an investigation world on the origins of the epidemic.

Australia’s National Security Agency confirmed that a search warrant had been executed as part of an ongoing investigation, and Labor Party leaders quickly announced that Mr Moselmane’s membership would be suspended. Authorities have not released any evidence of illegal activities by Mr. Moselmane, who could not be reached for comment.

The case is the first large-scale criminal investigation into Chinese influence peddling to be made public since Australia passed a series of foreign interference and espionage laws two years ago. The measures were aimed directly at Beijing’s attempt to shape the country’s politics through donations, pledges and pressure on politicians at all levels of government.

The probe promises to further fuel tensions with Beijing, which have been escalating since Australia began pushing in April for a mission to investigate the pandemic. China has bristled with criticism of its handling of the virus since it emerged in Wuhan.

Beijing officials retaliated against Australia by cutting agricultural imports and threatening to level the further economic damage. They warned Chinese tourists to avoid Australia because of what they described as racist mistreatment, and issued similar instructions to students not to study in the country. This is potentially a blow to Australian universities, which depend on international students for billions of dollars in revenue.

And last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a “sophisticated state cyber actor” – widely regarded as China – was attacking a wide range of Australian government entities.

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, called the investigation involving Mr. Moselmane a test case for prosecutors and the country’s more aggressive efforts to stand up to China after years of accommodation and unfettered commerce.

“It’s just another sign on the trip,” Mr. Jennings said. “What we’ve seen for a few years now is a deterioration in relations with China, which is largely due to the Chinese government pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior on a series of fronts. and that the Australian authorities have pushed back, which China is not doing. I do not like.

The investigation into Friday’s raids, which were first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, most likely began before the pandemic. A former official said the case has been under construction for months. Mr Jennings, who has worked for more than a decade in senior defense and intelligence positions, said it was likely one of many investigations.

As part of the mandate of the new laws, which broadened the definition of espionage, he said authorities would examine whether covert activities or Beijing-led agents sought to influence Australian politicians or their employees, and whether it This was the case, if those involved were aware of the Chinese government’s efforts.

“From the moment the new legislation emerged, I anticipated that our intelligence agencies would look for a case on which to test the laws,” Mr. Jennings said. He added: “This may be one of the most egregious, but there is a system at play that affects more than one person. There is a network of connections which I think will now develop. “

The Chinese government has long treated Australia as a petri dish for influencing experiments, and its playbook is relatively well known.

Chinese consulates and other agencies tend to work closely with civic organizations in Australia that are linked to the United Front Work Department, the party’s arm for dealing with overseas Chinese. The leaders of these organizations frequently mix cultural events with politics and donations to political parties and candidates considered friends of Beijing, or at least open to influence. The Chinese-language media controlled directly or indirectly by Beijing promote those they favor and condemn those who resist.

Influence efforts led to the downfall of a promising Labor politician in 2017. Lawmaker Sam Dastyari was a newcomer known for his fundraising when he resigned amid accusations he defended China’s foreign policy interests after taking money. political donors of Chinese origin.

Mr Moselmane’s known ties to the Chinese government appear to be more related to personnel and travel. He has made several privately funded trips to China over the past decade, with records showing costs covered by Chinese government officials or agencies.

He also came under scrutiny for hiring part-time staff member John Zhang, who was linked by Chinese websites to a propaganda training course run by the Bureau of Chinese Affairs. overseas, which would form part of the United Front.

Mr. Moselmane has been particularly bold in his pro-China statements. Earlier this year, he praised Mr. Xi’s “steadfast leadership” in handling the coronavirus crisis. Speaking at an event in 2018 at the Parliament of New South Wales, he said: “The only way for China to reach its potential is for China to force a change in the rules and create a new world order.

Some Australian officials, including George Brandis, Australia’s top diplomat in London who drafted the foreign interference laws when he was attorney general, have argued that the country’s new measures put him at the forefront of the global effort to curb attempts to violate China’s sovereignty and sovereignty. democratic principles.

But whatever the outcome of the current case, some international analysts are less certain that legal consequences will alter the calculations or actions of a rising superpower determined to bend the world to its will.

“If the case is continued and results in a verdict against the organization or officials of the Chinese United Front, it will certainly be embarrassing for Beijing,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I doubt, however, that this will lead to a radical change in such efforts,” she added. “They might change their tactics, but UF operations are essential to promote Chinese interests and will not be easily abandoned.”

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