Australia launches intelligence task force after China spy claims
Sydney: Australia on Monday launched a high-level intelligence task force to combat what officials say is rampant foreign interference in the country and after claims of bold Chinese spying operations Down Under.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new force would involve all the country's top intelligence agencies "to disrupt and deter anyone attempting to undermine our national interests". One novelty of the force would see intelligence agencies, normally tasked with overseas threats, coordinate with federal police to identify and prosecute or expel foreign agents.
"We will be developing new specialist capabilities both from an investigatory capacity as well as being able to pursue investigations and bring them to either disrupt activity or, indeed, follow through and prosecute," Morrison said during a press conference in Canberra. "This task force to counter foreign interference is about identifying it, disrupting and prosecuting." Morrison did not explicitly mention China, saying "foreign interference comes from many, many different sources" and is "an evolving threat". But Monday's announcement followed revelations that authorities were investigating a raft of explosive claims by Wang Liqiang, a would-be Chinese defector, about Chinese espionage and covert influence operations in Australia.
In response to Australia's task force, however, China -- which has called Wang an "unemployed" fugitive -- pointed at his case as evidence of how "Chinese interference" has been over-hyped.
"Different media and organisations in Australia are fond of hyping up so-called Chinese spy cases... no matter how bizarre their plots," said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua
Chunying. "We hope the relevant sides can... abandon their prejudices (and) respect the facts," she told reporters at a press
briefing. Australia's announcement also came after the recently retired head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Duncan Lewis, said China wanted to "take over" Australia's political system with an
"insidious" and systematic campaign of espionage and influence peddling".