Australia denies using Chinese spy case to influence Taiwan elections

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Gary Richard Cowan. (Australian Office Taipei photo)

Gary Richard Cowan. (Australian Office Taipei photo)

The Australian representative office in Taipei said Tuesday (Jan. 21) that its government's disclosure of a case involving a self-confessed spy from China, who was seeking asylum in Canberra late last year, was not aimed at influencing Taiwan's general elections, as has been alleged.

In an exclusive interview with CNA Tuesday, Gary Richard Cowan, head of the Australian Office Taipei, said there was no truth to the allegations that the Australia government or people were seeking to influence Taiwan's election.

"There is no circumstance under which Australia would seek to interfere in an election in Taiwan," Cowan said, adding that only the Taiwanese people have the right to choose their leader and decide who should represent them.

The case of the self-confessed Chinese spy Wang Liqiang (王立強) was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian media outlets last November, during the campaign leading up to Taiwan's presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 11.

According to the reports, Wang went to Australia's counter-espionage agency last October with information on how China's intelligence officers had been funding and conducting spying operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.

China's law enforcement agencies denied the reports, saying Wang was a fugitive wanted for fraud.

In Taiwan, some news commentators said the timing of the reports indicated that the Australian government had fed Wang's story to the media in a bid to help Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) win her second term.

Cowan, however, said that was not the case, as the Australian government does not take sides in Taiwan politics.

"Australia has had longstanding and good relations with people across the political spectrum in Taiwan for a long time, and we expect that to continue," Cowan said.

He congratulated Tsai, her running mate Lai Ching-te (賴清德), and all the legislators-elect on their victory and lauded Taiwan's democratic development since its period of martial law ended in 1987.

On the question of future cooperation between Australia and Taiwan, Cowan said the focus will be on education, trade, energy and science.

This year, he said, the theme of the bilateral relations is "discover Taiwan, discover Australia," as chosen by his office.

Meanwhile, Cowan expressed thanks to the Taiwan government for donating 6,000 respirator masks to Australia, which is battling a series of devastating bushfires, and to the Taiwan Red Cross for launching a donation drive.

Cowan urged the Taiwanese people to continue visiting, studying, working and investing in Australia, saying those are the best ways to support the country's recovery.

"The emergency is ending," he said. "We are very much open for business and looking forward to welcoming people there."