National Security

The AFP allowed Chinese police into Australia to speak with a woman. They then escorted her back to China

May 14, 2024

Tuesday 14 May 2024
Dylan Welch, Echo Hui, and Elise Potaka
ABC News Online

Chinese police hunting international corruption targets were allowed into Australia by the federal police and subsequently escorted a woman back to China for trial, in a major breach of Chinese-Australian police protocols.

The revelations, contained in Monday night's Four Corners program about a former Chinese spy, prompted a sharp rebuke from federal politicians who are concerned the act may have undermined Australia's national security.

The Chinese police were permitted to enter Australia in 2019 to talk with a 59-year-old Chinese-born Australian resident.

The woman was targeted under a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) anti-corruption drive called Operation Fox Hunt, which relies on police from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to make arrests.

While Fox Hunt is described by the CCP as targeting "economic criminals", human rights groups have said it is also used to silence dissidents and abduct people around the world.

'An extrajudicial extradition'

Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Paterson said the revelations were alarming.

"I'm very concerned to hear that the Australian Federal Police has apparently facilitated an operation of the Ministry of Public Security here in Australia, which has resulted in an Australian resident returning to China," Senator Paterson said.

"This could amount to what sounds like an extrajudicial extradition of an Australian resident."

The Home Affairs Minister, Clare O'Neil, declined to speak to the ABC for this story.

However, the head of parliament's intelligence committee, Labor MP Peter Khalil, said the incident was "deeply disturbing".

"The alleged incident that occurred in 2019, under the then-Coalition government, is deeply disturbing, deeply disturbing, Mr Khalil said.

"The idea that any foreign government could use coercive measures, threatening behaviour to remove someone from Australia, is just unacceptable."

The story of the woman, who has only been identified by her last name, Wang, was referred to in a Chinese state media report congratulating the police for returning her.

The report stated Ms Wang was suspected of contract fraud.

Ms Wang lived in China's northern Hainan province until moving to Australia in 2013.

The report stated that police relied on a well-known Chinese government tactic of harassing a target's China-based family members until the target agreed to return to face charges.

The article stated the officers came to Australia with the "strong support" of the Chinese embassy in Canberra and the consulate-general in Sydney.

"[The] police officers went to Australia to meet with Ms Wang," it said.

"After patient and meticulous work, Ms Wang returned to China, surrendered, and was arrested."

Four Corners has established the MPS officers were approved to come here under an agreement with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) but once they were here, they breached protocol and returned to China with the woman.

Greens senator David Shoebridge criticised the AFP's actions.

"Given what we know about [China's] global search for dissidents and people who have fallen out of political favour with the regime, it's utterly incredible that the AFP permitted Chinese police onto our shores," Senator Shoebridge said.

'We need absolutely full disclosure'

In 2017, the Turnbull government abruptly withdrew from parliament a proposed Chinese extradition treaty following significant backbench discontent.

Since then, the Australian government has resorted to various agreements with MPS and other Chinese security agencies as a means of cooperating with China on criminal matters.

The AFP recently told Senator Paterson it had four current agreements with Chinese security agencies.

Two of those are with the MPS and were re-signed only last month. One is a "joint agency agreement on economic crime". Both were re-signed last month.

Economic crime is a term often used by the Chinese government to refer to Fox Hunt targets.

"We don't know what the details in the memorandum of understandings are that [the AFP] signed with multiple Chinese policing authorities. And obviously we now desperately need to see that," Senator Shoebridge said.

"We need absolutely full disclosure of just how many Australian residents have been subject to these kinds of arrangements."

Senator Paterson and Senator Shoebridge have been probing the AFP about its relationship with Chinese security agencies such as MPS and why, given their poor human rights record, it continues to engage with them.

"The AFP would be extremely naive if they thought that they could trust the Ministry of Public Security or any other organ of the Chinese Communist Party to abide by commitments it entered into when operating in Australia," Senator Paterson said.

"If [Chinese officials] were going to have any interaction with Australian residents, they shouldn't have been able to do so without very strict oversight and controls by the AFP."

"If it is the case that they're allowed to roam around Australia and have their own interactions with Australian residents, that's a very serious matter," he said.

Mr Khalil said this was just the latest in a series of worrying cases regarding Chinese government interference in Australia.

"If you visualise this as an iceberg, 98 per cent of these incidents are occurring under the water in what we call the grey zone," he said.

"You're looking at unprecedented levels of attempts at foreign interference, foreign influencing behaviour, espionage, and sabotage."

The AFP would neither discuss the 2019 case nor reveal whether other people had been similarly interviewed in Australia, or returned to China, by Chinese police.

An AFP spokesman said it only ever acted according to Australian law.

"The AFP will never endorse or facilitate a foreign agency to come to Australia to intimidate or force foreign nationals to return home – under Australian law, that is a crime," the spokesman said.

"The AFP does, where 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.

"However, the AFP is guided by the rule of law, what is in Australia's interests, the protection of the Australian community and the current operating environment," the spokesman said.

Ms Wang's whereabouts are unknown. She may still be in China or she may have faced trial and since returned to Australia, as have some of the 16 Australian-based Fox Hunt targets who returned to China since 2014 to face trials there.

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