'Irrefutable evidence': China accuses Australia of 'crossing the line' amid spying claims

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

China has sensationally doubled down on state media reports accusing Australia of ramping up an espionage campaign against Beijing, insisting claims from China’s outspoken mouthpiece the Global Times are only the “tip of the iceberg”.

In response to the publication’s story on Sunday which claimed Australia is “waging an intensifying espionage offensive against China”, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called out Australia over its spying efforts in China.

On Monday he said: “I am afraid that what is revealed by the Global Times this time is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’”.

He said there was “irrefutable evidence abound to prove Australia's operation of spying activities in China”.

“They steal information and data from other countries, jeopardising others' sovereignty and security,” Mr Zhao said.

Zhao Lijian has called out Australia over its espionage attempts in China. Source: FMPRC

“But they play the part of the victim, peddling rumours and stoking confrontation by staging a farce of the thief crying "stop thief".

“They have long crossed the line. They owe an honest answer to the Chinese people and the international community.”

Evidence put forward by the Global Times of such missions into China was a photo of "spying materials" including a compass, a USB flash disk, a notebook, a mask, gloves and a map of Shanghai, said to have been seized from arrested Australian agents in 2018.

Yet on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the claims by questioning the credibility of the Global Times at a press conference.

“I wouldn't be relying on Chinese statement media for your sources for questions,” he told one reporter.

The tabloid controlled by The Communist Party of China also claimed Australia is instigating defections, spying on Chinese students and feeding "fake news" to the media to hype up theories about Chinese spying.

China’s claims ‘almost laughable’

Clive Hamilton, who is public ethics professor at Charles Sturt University and author of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, told the ABC the publication’s claims are “fanciful” and “almost laughable”.

He said China’s “extensive” espionage operation, both cyber and on the ground, eclipsed any operation Australia led.

However, Mr Zhao hit out at Australian media for “sensational stories” that accused China of spying on Australia, saying they lacked any “solid evidence”.

The claims of Australian espionage in China come just days after the ASIO and AFP raided the home and offices of NSW upper house Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane over allegations Chinese agents had infiltrated his office.

It also follows speculation China is behind an ongoing “sophisticated” cyber attack on Australia which Mr Morrison informed the nation about two weeks ago.

Shaoquett Moselmane has denied any wrongdoing after his home was raided by ASIO and the AFP. Source: AAP

Mr Morrison declined to say who Australia believed was behind the attacks, however, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is standing by its accusation that the attack was "95 per cent or more" likely to have been launched from China because of its scale and intensity.

China has denied any part in the attacks, saying such suggestions are "baseless". 

Mr Morrison’s revelation came days after the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released an in-depth report accusing China’s United Front system of covertly manipulating and infiltrating several industries in Australia.

The latest bitter public feud has only worsened tensions between China and the US, which have deteriorated rapidly after Mr Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia told to ‘talk less nonsense’

Mr Zhao on Monday insisted China had “no need” or “interest” to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries.

He instead pointed the finger at Australia, focusing on its “important” role in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, alongside Canada, the US, New Zealand and the UK.

“The Five Eyes intelligence alliance has long engaged in cyber espionage, spying and surveillance on foreign governments, companies and individuals in violation of international law and basic norms for international relations,” he said.

“This is not a secret to anyone.”

He called on Australia to “abandon the Cold War mentality and ideological bias”.

“Play fair and upright, and talk less nonsense.”

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