National Security

AFP must explain deal allowing Chinese ‘secret police’ to conduct operations in Australia, Coalition says

May 14, 2024

Tuesday 14 May 2024
Daniel Hurst
The Guardian

The Australian federal police must explain why it renewed a cooperation deal with China’s ministry of public security (MPS) after “gravely concerning” reports about the agency’s activities on Australian soil, the Coalition has said.

The opposition has identified at least seven active agreements relating to AFP cooperation with Chinese agencies, three of which were extended only last month.

The agreements are in the spotlight after an ABC Four Corners investigation found that Chinese police had been permitted to enter Australia in 2019 – when the Coalition was still in power – to question a 59-year-old Chinese-born Australian resident.

Four Corners reported that the MPS officers had approval to visit Australia under an agreement with the AFP, but then “breached protocol and returned to China with the woman”.

The Coalition’s home affairs spokesperson, James Paterson, said the AFP must now “justify why they recently re-signed a bilateral law enforcement cooperation treaty with the MPS now we know for sure they [the MPS] cannot be trusted”.

“The revelations that the Australian Federal Police allowed the Ministry of Public Security to apparently operate with impunity on Australian soil is gravely concerning,” Paterson told Guardian Australia on Tuesday.

“No one should be surprised the MPS did not adhere to their end of the deal. You cannot trust the secret police of an authoritarian state, particularly one which is the primary source of foreign interference and espionage in our country.”

The Chinese embassy in Canberra was contacted for a response to Paterson’s comments and the ABC report.

The ABC reported that the woman’s China-based family members were harassed until she agreed to return to China to face charges related to alleged contract fraud.

According to the ABC report, Chinese state media had congratulated the MPS officers for undertaking “patient and meticulous work” and said the woman had “returned to China, surrendered, and was arrested”.

When asked for comment, the AFP said it was “aware of domestic and international media reporting in relation to foreign nationals in Australia being forced to return to their homeland”.

A spokesperson for the AFP said it did, when appropriate, “provide relevant information to overseas agencies about suspected criminals in Australia, where there are mutual assistance treaties and other avenues underpinned by evidence and Australian law”.

But the AFP would “never endorse or facilitate a foreign agency to come to Australia to intimidate or force foreign nationals to return home”, the spokesperson said on Tuesday.

They said it was “an offence for foreign governments, or those acting on their behalf, to threaten culturally and linguistically diverse communities, or anyone else in Australia” including through “harassment, surveillance, intimidation and other coercive measures”.

“The AFP would like to reinforce with the diaspora community, that it is unlawful for any country or agency, without legal authority, to remove them from Australia,” the spokesperson said.

The AFP said anyone with concerns should phone the national security hotline on 1800 123 400.

Last month the AFP re-signed three agreements, including a statement of intent with the MPS in combating transnational crime and enhancing police cooperation.

It also extended a joint agency agreement on economic crime with the MPS, and one with China’s national narcotics control commission relating to the next phase of an illicit drug taskforce.

A statement of intent with the same narcotics commission was signed last year.

A previous memorandum of understanding between the AFP and China’s national commission of supervision, signed in December 2018 for five years, was allowed to lapse in 2023.

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