Australia on Monday announced that it will create an intelligence task force amid concerns about interference from China, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“This is a boost to our ability to discover, track and disrupt foreign interference in Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, adding that the project would improve intelligence agency collaboration and “strengthen Australia’s analysis of the sophisticated disinformation activities happening across the world, particularly against democratic processes and elections.”
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) will lead the task force, which will involve an information-sharing partnership between various Australian agencies, including those tracking cyber and financial crimes and the Australian Federal Police, the rough equivalent of the FBI.
While China was not singled out in the announcement, it comes the month after former ASIO head Duncan Lewis accused Beijing of seeking to “take over” Australia through foreign interference. The Chinese government countered that Australian media were “hyping up the so-called China espionage infiltration or interference,” according to the WSJ.
Current ASIO head Mike Burgess said in November that intelligence agencies are currently investigating an alleged plot to plant a Chinese spy in Parliament. Car dealer Nick Zhao was found dead after telling intelligence officials he had been offered $1 million Australian dollars, or about $676,500, to run for office with the ruling Liberal Party.
Burgess said in a public statement that the agency is investigating Zhao’s claim.
“Hostile foreign-intelligence activity continues to pose a real threat to our nation and its security,” he said in the statement, according to the WSJ.
The Chinese government has dismissed the claims.
“They’d rather believe in some ill-intentioned liars than the authoritative information from the Chinese side,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
“Australia and other countries have had very longstanding set policies around China that have been mainly about wonderful economic promise and they’ve discounted the security aspects,” , Michael Shoebridge, a director of defense, strategy and national security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the WSJ.
“But it’s changing faster than you’d expect, driven by the assertiveness of the Chinese state under [President] Xi Jinping,” he added.