The Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Thursday charged Melbourne resident and local Chinese community leader Duong Di Sanh with preparing to carry out a “foreign interference offense,” which carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.
Duong, 65, leads two major Chinese cultural organizations in Australia and is the first person to be charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws, which Canberra passed in 2018 amid increasing tension with Beijing. The legislation criminalizes “covert, deceptive, or threatening actions that are intended to interfere with democratic processes or provide intelligence to overseas governments.”
After being charged on Thursday in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, Duong was released on bail to appear in court again in March 2021. Police said Duong’s charges followed a year-long investigation by Australia’s Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Taskforce, led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), the nation’s domestic spy agency, and the AFP.
“The CFI Taskforce has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage,” AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said on Thursday.
“Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy,” he said.
“It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments,” McCartney added.
Duong serves as deputy chairman of the Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne. He is also president of the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organizations, a group representing ethnic Chinese people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He was a candidate for Australia’s center-right Liberal Party in a 1996 Victoria state election.
“Mr. Duong has been linked with the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification — which is affiliated with the Chinese Government’s overseas influence arm, the United Front Work Department,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) noted Thursday.
Duong’s foreign interference charge comes amid growing diplomatic and trade tension between Canberra and Beijing. This week, China ordered its traders to halt imports of several categories of Australian products, including copper ore and concentrate, coal, timber, barley, sugar, wine, and lobsters.
Bloomberg asked Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin about China’s increased trade restrictions on Australian products at a regular press conference in Beijing on Thursday.
Wang said in response:
The Chinese competent authorities’ measures on foreign imports are in line with Chinese laws and regulations and international customary practices. They protect the safety of consumers and the legitimate rights and interests of domestic industries, and are consistent with the free trade agreement between China and Australia
“We hope Australia can do more to enhance mutual trust and bilateral cooperation, as the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership calls for, and bring the bilateral relations back to the right track as early as possible,” he added.