TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Australia has charged its first person under the foreign interference laws it passed in 2018: a 65-year-old Melbourne man linked to China's efforts to boost its influence in the country.
The suspect, Di Sanh Duong, also known as Sunny Duong, is the president of the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The group was established to bring together ethnic Chinese immigrants from the three Southeast Asian countries.
Although no details have been released yet regarding Duong's charge, he is associated with the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification, which is backed by China's United Front Work Department, ABC News reported. The latter aims to influence overseas Chinese and promote the Chinese Communist Party with its rhetoric.
Duong was released on bail after he appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on Thursday (Nov. 5). His next court date is slated for March.
The Australian police confirmed that the charge followed a year-long investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFIT) under the Australian Federal Police (AFP). According to AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney, the CFIT took preventative action to stop Duong at an early stage of his alleged activities and that his conduct is "corrupting, deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments."
Australia's foreign interference laws penalize individuals representing "foreign principles," which range from governments to political organizations, as they interfere with the country's political process or endanger its national security through covert or deceitful conduct. Modeled on the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, the laws require foreign lobbyists to register with the Australian government within 14 days of their intended activities.
A University of Technology Sydney scholar who specializes in China's growing impact on Australia, Feng Chongyi (馮崇義), told RFA that the passage of foreign interference legislation had re-written the political scene in Australia.
"The major political parties have turned down funding from Chinese organizations, and parades in China Town during the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year, which had been largely sponsored by China in the past, were canceled," Feng said.
The political tension has further soured economic ties between the two nations. An internal order from the Chinese authorities said to have gone into effect on Friday (Nov. 6) bans commodities traders in China from importing several Australian products, including coal and sugar. This order is emblematic of the rising trade friction between the two sides after last weekend's prolonged inspection of tons of Australian lobsters stranded in Chinese customs.
On Nov. 5, China's state-run mouthpiece the Global Times refuted the allegation that the inspection was retaliatory in nature by justifying it as a normal step to ensure food security.
The Global Times then slammed Canberra for its tightened scrutiny of Chinese investments, banning of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from the country's 5G network, and the deteriorating business environment for Chinese entities.
It also characterized the falling popularity of Australian products among Chinese traders and consumers as a natural consequence of Canberra's hostility.