In an interview published Friday, Canberra’s ex-spy master said that China was seeking to “take over” Australia‘s political system with an “insidious” and systemic program of coercion and influence-peddling.
Duncan Lewis, who retired at the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in September after five years, said that China could threaten anyone in political office, with the potential impact not known for years to come.
Lewis described incidents involving Chinese agents making significant donations to Australian political parties as part of a broad-based influence-peddling operation that also targeted media and universities across the country.
The former spy chief said that the support of the large ethnic Chinese community in Australia was “vital in the battle against international covert intervention,” much like the Muslim-Australians who helped fight terrorism.
Lewis, who also held senior military positions and worked as Australia’s ambassador to Belgium and NATO when running ASIO, regularly warned of the dangers of international espionage but avoided attacking China.
His new comments would likely rile Beijing, which vigorously dismissed claims that its ruling Communist Party was covertly intervening with Australian affairs.
As a result of their criticism of Chinese operations in Australia and across the Pacific, China blocked a proposed visit by two Liberal Party MPs earlier this month.
And last week, a group of Australian universities announced measures to combat foreign interference in key areas of collaboration in research, cybersecurity, and international partnerships— a move is seen as targeting China.
It is also widely suspected that China is behind major intrusions into Australia’s parliament’s computer systems and a university with close ties to government and security services.
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