‘Rules are rules!!!’ Scott Morrison insisted, during the Djokovic saga.
Well, ‘rules are rules’ unless you’re Scott Morrison trying to set up a WeChat account.
Foreign nationals are not allowed to own public accounts on China’s social media platform WeChat, so Australian politicians use a workaround and set up their accounts via a Chinese agency. This means that the Prime Minister’s account is actually owned by a Chinese national from Fuzhou named Mr Ji.
Hinging your political social media presence on an unknown Chinese citizen is as risky as it sounds, leaving the Liberal Party without much room to move when Mr Ji sold Scott Morrison’s WeChat account to a Chinese businessman in November 2021.
Huang Aipeng, CEO of Fuzhou 985 Information Technology, bought Morrison’s account from Mr Ji because it had ‘lots of followers’.
‘He didn’t tell me who was using the account. I don’t even know who Morrison is. I saw the account has a lot of followers, so we bought it,’ said Mr Huang to the ABC.
Under WeChat’s service agreement, Mr Ji was not permitted to allow a third party (like the Australian government) to use his account. Mind you, Mr Ji is not allowed to sell his account either, but it’s a moot point for the Prime Minister.
Morrison – a self-declared stickler for the rules – has little to complain about. The government was warned to ban WeChat from Australia back in 2018 when the Defence Department outlawed its use over security concerns. A 2016 security report by Amnesty gave WeChat (listed under its parent Tencent) zero out of 100. ‘Not only did it fail to adequately meet any of the criteria, but it was the only company which has not stated publicly that it will not grant [Chinese] government requests to access encrypted messages by building a “backdoor”.’
Instead of taking the sensible decision and banning an app labelled as a serious and globally acknowledged security risk, Morrison and his government decided to use WeChat as a political tool to win votes from the Chinese community in Australia.
For James Paterson of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to whinge about foreign interference now – when the existence of the app has been an act of foreign interference for years – comes off as hypocrisy. As they say: if you play stupid games, expect to win stupid prizes.
Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, has ignored demands from the Australian government to return Morrison’s account. Even if they did, it would be returned to Mr Ji, not Morrison.
And yes, Tencent is aware that the account is operated by the Prime Minister of Australia. It was blocked in 2020 after Morrison (quite rightly) had a diplomatic furore with the Chinese government when the Communist Party released faked images of Australian soldiers as part of an anti-Australian propaganda campaign.
Is this latest issue a political act orchestrated by the Chinese government to annoy Australia as part of escalating tensions? Probably.
For now, Morrison’s account will remain, ‘Australian Chinese new life’ and exist to offer ‘helpful tips’ for new arrivals in China.
Let this serve as a lesson to a government that continues to prioritise electioneering over common sense.
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