For the first ever, a PRC spy blow up his cover, Wang “William” Liqiang, a Chinese spy has risked his life to defect to Australia and is now offering a treasure trove of unprecedented inside intelligence on how China conducts espionage, political interference, debt diplomacy, military operations and grease payments to foreign politicians, civilians and military leaders. Liqiang revealed intricate details in interviews with The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes reports the Age.
Mr Liqiang is currently living in an undisclosed location in Sydney, Australia in a tourist visa and seeking political asylum to Australia. Mr Wang has taken his material to Australia’s intelligence agency, ASIO, – potentially opening another front in Australia’s challenging bilateral relationship with China.
Wang “William” Liqiang is the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover to Australian media. He has revealed the identities of China’s senior military intelligence officers, his boss, Xiang Xin, was a senior intelligence operative, as well as providing operational details of how they fund and conduct political interference operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.
He has given previously unheard details about the kidnapping of five booksellers from Hong Kong and their rendition to the Chinese mainland. His testimony shows how Beijing’s spies are infiltrating Hong Kong’s democracy movement, manipulating Taiwan’s elections and operating with impunity in Australia.
A sworn statement Mr Wang provided ASIO in October states that he has personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities. He faces certain detention and possible execution if he returns to China.
ASIO has repeatedly warned that the current threat of foreign interference is “unprecedented” and that the number of foreign intelligence officers currently operating in Australia is higher than it was during the Cold War. ASIO has never publicly named China as a primary source of its concerns, as the government grapples with how to balance public awareness with the risk of diplomatic and economic retaliation.
However, on Friday, former ASIO boss Duncan Lewis said the Chinese government was seeking to “take over” Australia’s political system through its “insidious” foreign interference operations.
Derailing Democratic Movement In Hongkong
Mr Wang elaborated how he was part of an intelligence operation hidden within a Hong Kong-listed company, China Innovation Investment Limited (CIIL), an offshore espionage unit of Chinese defense contractor Norinco which infiltrated Hong Kong’s universities and media with pro-Chinese Communist Party operatives who could be activated to counter the democracy movement. He says he had personal involvement in an October 2015 operation to kidnap and abduct to the Chinese mainland a Hong Kong bookseller, Lee Bo, and played a role in a clandestine organisation that also directed bashings or cyber attacks on Hong Kong dissidents.
Mr Wang said the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping “infiltrates all countries in areas such as military, business and culture, in order to achieve its goal.”
A key area of operations, he said, were Hong Kong universities. Mr Wang claimed his organisation had “infiltrated into all universities, including student associations and other student groups and bodies.” He had responsibility for recruiting mainland students using scholarships, travel grants, alumni associations and an education foundation.
“I influenced them with patriotism, guiding them to love the country, love the Party and our leaders, and fight back strongly against those independence and democracy activists in Hong Kong.”
He said he personally helped to organise the infamous kidnapping to the mainland of Causeway Bay Bookshop owner Lee Bo. Mr Wang says one of the aims of his intelligence work and the targeting of dissidents was to spread fear: “to make all troublemakers in Hong Kong terrified.”
A spokesman for CIIL said Mr Xiang did not want to answer questions from The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes over the phone, because he had never spoken to the journalists who were calling, and when questions were emailed to Mr Xiang, the spokesman said Mr Xiang would not answer because he could not verify that the email was not sent covertly by the Australian government in order to obtain intelligence.
Mr Wang claimed his organisation had infiltrated Hong Kong media outlets, financing some and planting operatives in others. A senior manager at a major Asian television network “is a current military cadre with a Division Commander rank,” said Wang.
Infiltrating in Taiwan Elections
In Taiwan, Mr Wang said his intelligence operation was in contact with media executives in order to influence Taiwan’s political system as part of a systemic election meddling campaign being waged by Beijing to topple candidates (including President Tsai Ing-Wen) considered hostile. He said his operation had backed presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu.
Mr Wang said he was responsible for coordinating a “cyber army” to shift political opinion, similar to Russia’s cyber interference operations in the US elections.
“Our work on Taiwan was the most important work of ours – the infiltration into media, temples and grassroots organisations,” said Wang.
Mr Liqiang admitted obtaining a a fake South Korean passport to gain entry to Taiwan and infiltrate its political system, including directing a “cyber army” and Taiwanese operatives to meddle in the 2018 municipal elections. Plans are underway to influence the 2020 presidential election – plans that partly motivated him to defect to Australia.
Mr Wang said his operation successfully meddled in the “nine-in-one” elections in Taiwan in 2018, leading to victories for pro-Beijing candidates. In May, he was given a fake South Korean passport and ordered to commence an operation on the ground in Taipei to influence the 2020 presidential elections with the aim of bringing down President Tsai Ing-wen.
Influencing Australia’s Policy towards China
China has been expanding it’s influence in the Pacific through construction projects like building roads, highways, military facilities and ports for the Pacific nations in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fuji. China’s debt diplomacy worked well in Djibouti, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Maldives and Sri Lanka, eventually small Islands nations will give itself up to Chinese domain and allow China to build a military base in Australia’s backyard.
Mr Wang’s statement also reflects actions of China in the Pacific region. Mr Wang had also met a high ranking intelligence operative he believed was conducting spy operations in Australia via a front company in the energy sector.
Mr Wang said that his organisation had dealings with several significant Australian political donors, including a one-time staffer in a federal MP’s office. Mr Wang provided bank account transactions to back his claims.
China has proven, it’s capable of influencing Australian energy export, mining, oil and gas exploration policies through political donations and grease payments to politicians. It would be a great concern for Australia, troubling for Pacific region if China continues to interfere with Australian democratic institutions and government departments to gain commercial and political benefits in the Pacific region.
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