MELBOURNE, Nov 23 (Reuters) - An apparent Chinese intelligence service agent is seeking asylum in Australia after providing details on Beijing’s political interference in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, the Age newspaper said on Saturday.
Australia’s ties with China have deteriorated in recent years amid accusations that its most important trading partner is meddling in domestic affairs. Canberra also fears that China seeks undue influence in the Pacific region.
The defector, identified as Wang “William” Liqiang, is reported to have provided the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or ASIO, with the identities of China’s senior military intelligence officers in Hong Kong, the paper said.
Wang also provided details of how China funds and conducts political interference operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, the daily said.
“I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities,” the Age cited Wang as saying in a statement to the agency.
The ASIO declined to comment, saying only that it does not comment on operational matters or individuals.
Australia’s department of home affairs said it did not comment on individual cases.
“The purpose of protection visas is to safeguard people who cannot return to their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution or risk of harm,” a representative said, however, adding in a statement that each case was assessed on its merits.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately return requests for a comment.
Wang may have “a legitimate claim” for asylum, said the head of Australia’s opposition Labor party, Anthony Albanese.
“But we will have appropriate briefings next week,” he was cited in a statement as saying.
In Taipei, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party said Wang’s information, as reported in the Australian media, was a reminder that China was getting involved in the self-ruled island’s presidential election next year.
“We solemnly appeal to the Taiwanese public to face up to the fact that whether it is the Chinese internet army or the Chinese government, it is using the democratic system of Taiwan to infringe upon our democracy,” the spokeswoman, Lee Yen-jong, said.
China considers Taiwan a wayward province and has never ruled out the use of force to return it to the fold.
The Age said Wang had revealed how Beijing covertly controlled listed companies to fund intelligence operations, including surveillance and profiling of dissidents and the co-opting of media organisations.
He also provided the Australian government with details of the kidnapping of a Hong Kong bookseller taken to the mainland and interrogated on suspicion of selling dissident materials, the paper added. (Additional reporting in Beijing by Catherine Cadell and in Taipei by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)