PERTH, Australia (AP) — China denied the explosive claims of a self-confessed spy seeking asylum in Australia, saying Sunday he is a convicted fraudster wanted by Shanghai police.
The Nine Network newspapers reported that Chinese defector Wang “William” Liqiang has given Australia’s counterespionage agency inside intelligence on how Beijing conducts its interference operations abroad and revealed the identities of China’s senior military intelligence officers in Hong Kong.
Wang claimed he was involved in the kidnapping in 2015 of one of five Hong Kong booksellers suspected of selling dissident materials. The incident has been a reference point for protesters during the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong.
He said he currently was living in Sydney with his wife and infant son on a tourist visa and had requested political asylum.
The Chinese Embassy on Sunday hit back at Wang and referenced a statement from Shanghai police, which said Wang was sentenced in Fujian province in October 2016 to one year and three months in prison for fraud with a suspended sentence of 1 ½ year.
It said he was wanted in relation to a fraud case from earlier this year.
“On April 19, 2019, the Shanghai police opened an investigation into Wang who allegedly cheated 4.6 million yuan from a person surnamed Shu through a fake investment project involving car import in February,” the statement said.
The embassy said Wang left for Hong Kong on April 10 carrying a fake Chinese passport and a fake Hong Kong permanent resident ID.
It said the Shanghai police were investigating the matter.
Wang would be the first Chinese intelligence operative to blow his cover. He told Nine Network he faced detention and possible execution if he returned to China.
Wang claimed he was part of a Hong Kong-based investment firm that was a front for the Chinese government to conduct political and economic espionage in Hong Kong, including infiltrating universities and directing harassment and cyberattacks against dissidents.
Using a South Korean passport, Wang said he meddled in Taiwan’s 2018 municipal elections and claimed there were plans to disrupt the democratic self-ruled island’s presidential election in January.
Resource-rich Australia relies on China for one-third of its export earnings, but relations have been frosty for some time.
The Australian government has been trying to neutralize China’s influence by banning foreign political donations and all covert foreign interference in domestic politics.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters Saturday that Wang’s claims were “very disturbing.”
“The matter is now in the hands of the appropriate law enforcement agencies,” he said. “The government makes no apologies for the strong measures that we’ve taken to ensure that we have foreign interference laws in place.
He added, “We will always stand up for our national interest whether it’s on matters of foreign policy, foreign investments or other related issues.”
Former ASIO boss Duncan Lewis warned Friday that the Chinese government was seeking a “takeover” of Australia’s political system.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed such concerns, saying that national intelligence agencies were on top of any threats.
Last week, Liberal Party members Sen. James Paterson and Rep. Andrew Hastie said they had been barred entry to China for a study trip because of their criticism of the Chinese government.
Hastie told Nine Network on Sunday that Wang should be protected by the Australian government. “I’m of the view that anyone who’s willing to assist us in defending our sovereignty deserves our protection,” he said.