China Accuses Australia of ‘McCarthyism’ for Espionage Concerns

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP) (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times on Wednesday accused Australia’s government of “McCarthyism” amid a recent crackdown by Canberra on Chinese agents in Australia suspected of espionage.

On September 9, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said that Australian intelligence agencies raided the homes of four Chinese journalists living in Australia in June. The four individuals represented Chinese state news agencies including Xinhua News Agency, China Central Radio, state broadcaster CCTV, and China News Agency. Zhao’s revelation was the first report of the incident. It came one day after Australia evacuated two of its citizens, also journalists, from China after they were aggressively questioned by Chinese police and told Australian diplomatic authorities that they feared detention.

On September 11, Australia’s trade minister revealed that the June raids were carried out by agencies acting “on evidence related to a foreign interference investigation.” On September 13, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the intelligence services suspected the four Chinese individuals of posing as journalists.

“If people are masquerading as journalists or business leaders or whoever they might be, and there’s evidence that they are acting in a contrary nature to Australian law, then ASIO [the Australian Security Intelligence Organization] and the Australian Federal Police and other agencies will act,” the interior minister said.

On Tuesday, ABC revealed that the Australian police recently “accessed the communications of top Chinese diplomats and named a Chinese consular official in a warrant as part of an investigation into political interference.” Reacting to this news on Wednesday, the Global Times published an article in which it claimed that “Australia’s China policy resemble[s] McCarthyism.”

Authored by a professor at China’s Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies, the article denounced Australia’s recent crackdown on Chinese interference in Australia as unwarranted.

“For any country, exchanges between embassies or consulates abroad and officials of the home countries are considered normal. Australian authorities’ calling it ‘political interference’ goes against the common practice of diplomacy. It embodies Australia’s political stance toward China — it hopes to restrain China’s official activities in Australia,” the author claimed.

“If Canberra does not alter its tough China policy, if it carries out more absurd practices, it cannot rule out the possibility that China will make more robust countermeasures, and send a severe warning to Australia,” the CCP mouthpiece cautioned.

According to search warrants seen by ABC, “the Australian Federal Police are investigating whether China’s Sydney consulate conspired with a New South Wales MP [Member of Parliament]’s policy adviser, [Chinese citizen] John Zhisen Zhang, in a plot to infiltrate the [leftwing opposition] Labor Party and influence voters.”

In April, the Australian government publicly supported a call to investigate the true origins of the Chinese coronavirus, which Beijing has been accused of obfuscating. Upset by the action, Beijing imposed retaliatory trade restrictions on Australian products, including barley and wine. Australia has since tightened restrictions on foreign investors in Australia, citing national security concerns. Most observers view the restrictions as targeting China, which has traditionally been Australia’s top trading partner.

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