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Alleged China spy plot 'disturbing': Aussie PM

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Australia probes claims that China tried to install agent in Parliament

MELBOURNE: Australia's domestic spy agency is investigating whether China tried to install an agent in federal Parliament in what Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday called "deeply disturbing" allegations.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said it had launched an investigation before the alleged plot was reported by Australia's 60 Minutes programme and affiliated newspapers on Sunday.

The reports said a suspected Chinese espionage ring had offered "a seven-figure sum" to pay for a Melbourne luxury car dealer, Mr Bo "Nick" Zhao, to run for a seat in Australia's federal Parliament.

"The reporting on Nine's 60 Minutes contains allegations that ASIO takes seriously," ASIO director-general of security Mike Burgess said in the statement on Sunday.

"Australians can be reassured that ASIO was previously aware of matters that have been reported today, and has been actively investigating them."

Officials at China's embassy in Canberra were not immediately available for comment.

"I find the allegations deeply disturbing and troubling," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra, adding the government had beefed up Australia's laws and security agencies to counter foreign interference. "Australia is not naive to the threats that it faces more broadly."

Australia's ties with its vital trading partner China have deteriorated in recent years, amid accusations that Beijing is meddling in domestic affairs.

The government has set up a counter-foreign interference coordinator and given the intelligence and security agencies additional resources to protect Australians and the nation's institutions, a government spokesman said.


Mr Zhao told ASIO about the alleged approach from another Melbourne businessman about a year ago, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said in the joint report with 60 Minutes and The Age newspaper, citing Mr Zhao's associates and Western security sources.

Mr Zhao was found dead in March in a Melbourne motel room and the police have been unable to conclude how he died, the newspaper said.

ASIO's Burgess said the death was subject to a coronial inquiry.

"Hostile foreign intelligence activity continues to pose a real threat to our nation and its security," he said.

The latest allegations came a day after media reported that a Chinese defector, who said he was an intelligence operative, told ASIO how China had funded and conducted political interference in Taiwan, Australia and Hong Kong.

The man, Mr Wang Liqiang, is seeking asylum in Australia with his wife and young son.

Mr Morrison said his asylum claim would be assessed on its merits, based on any "reasonable fear of persecution in their home country".

On the media reports, Chinese police said the "so-called China spy" was a 26-year-old convicted fraudster from the eastern province of Fujian.

Mr Wang's account sparked an angry reaction in the influential state-owned tabloid Global Times yesterday, which said: "Chinese people would intuitively know that Wang sounds like an opportunistic liar, probably a swindler."

It added it was rare for a person in China's national security establishment to have a child at such a young age. - REUTERS