Australia has begun taking action to curb foreign interference in their country. Authorities recently arrested Liberal Party member Di Sanh Duong, also known as Sunny, under charges of “preparing for a foreign interference offense.” This is the first time that a person has been charged under the foreign interference law that was passed in 2018. The law is said to have been passed specifically to deal with China.
Foreign interference law
Duong is 65 years old and has served as a board member for numerous Chinese-Australian community groups. According to the federal police, they have been investigating Duong for over a year. In October, the police raided several properties that had ties to him. The police are investigating whether Duong tried to influence immigration minister Alan Tudge on instructions from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“The CFI Taskforce has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage… Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy… It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments,” Australian Federal Police (AFP) Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said to The Age. Though Duong is alleged to have ties with a foreign intelligence agency, the AFP has not named which country the agency belongs to.
Duong ran for an election in 1996, representing the Liberal Party. Many people in the party admitted that he was very close to the party for many decades. Duong is the president of the Oceania Federation of Chinese Associations, which represents a global group of Chinese ethnic people from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Some government officials believe that the organization is being influenced by the United Front Work Department, an entity that acts at the behest of the CCP.
Following his arrest, Duong appeared in the Melbourne Magistrate’s court where he was granted bail. He is expected to appear for a committal mention hearing in March next year. If convicted, Duong will have to spend 10 years in prison.
Yun Jiang, director of the China Policy Center, points out that Australian officials have restrained themselves from mentioning the country Duong is believed to be working for, which might mean that authorities do not want to aggravate bilateral relations with China. However, if Australia does decide to tie the case with Beijing, Jiang believes that China will possibly react strongly.
Duong’s arrest comes at a time when the Australia-China relationship is at an all-time low. Australia’s refusal to toe the line when it comes to Beijing’s policies, whether it be the persecution of Uyghurs, the crackdown in Hong Kong, or other matters, has created a sharp division between the two nations.
Beijing has been trying to punish Australia by cutting down trade. China makes up a third of Australia’s exports. According to Belinda Allen of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the current conflict has shaved off 7 percent of Australia’s exports to China.
Beijing has banned the import of Australian beef and coal. Recently, a shipment of Australian lobsters was held up in Shanghai where it was left to rot. According to Chinese import agents, they have been informed by the government that shipments of Australian sugar, barley, wine, wool, lobsters, and timber would not be cleared. Collectively, these made up around US$4.3 billion in Australia’s exports to China as of June this year.
Despite suffering from China’s import restrictions, Australians seem to be supportive of their government’s action against China. A poll by Lowy Institute found that 94 percent of citizens wanted their country to cut down its dependence on the Asian nation.