Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lost ownership of his Chinese messaging app WeChat account. As reported by News Corp, Morrison was first locked out of his account, which has 76,000 followers, in July last year. A few months later, the ownership of the account was transferred to a separate company, rebranded with a different name, and the account description was altered – all without warning.
The account is now called ‘Australian-Chinese New Life’, and its description reads: “Providing living in Australia information for the Chinese community”.
WeChat rules only permit Chinese nationals to open a public account with the platform.
According to the ABC, the Prime Minister’s Office used a Chinese agency to help register the public account. The account ID details confirmed Morrison’s account was tied to an unknown male Chinese citizen.
Foreign interference claims
Chair of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee James Paterson has claimed the events surrounding the ownership of Morrison’s account amount to an act of foreign interference by the Chinese Government. Patterson said to 2GB: “What the Chinese government has done by shutting down an Australian account is foreign interference of Australian democracy in an election year.”
According to the ABC, the Prime Minister’s Office had attempted to restore the account on multiple occasions by contacting tech giant Tencent (who runs the platform) via the agency that initially registered the account.
Tencent said in a statement, “there is no evidence of any hacking or third-party intrusion”. The company added, “based on our information, this appears to be a dispute over account ownership.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on the issue: “It’s something we would like to see rectified because it’s a method of communication to the Australian Chinese community, which is very important.” He added, “it should be on offer to politicians of all political persuasions, it shouldn’t be a political football. It’s very, very disappointing to see the Prime Minister prevented from having that access.”