Chinese authorities have announced that they are fighting a major Australian spying offensive. According to information released by Global Times, anonymous government sources have revealed that several Australian spies have been identified and tracked both in Chinese and Australian territory. The agents are said to be collecting a variety of strategic information for Canberra, including intelligence data. The authorities also reveal that the spies were encouraging their sources to desertion, making several proposals for them to leave China. Among the targets of the espionage scheme would be public institutions and civil organizations in China and Chinese students living in Australia. It was also reported that Australian intelligence is promoting an information war operation, reversing the narrative and accusing China of inventing data on spying conspiracies to hide data about its own activities.
Chinese counterintelligence agencies are already working to tighten counter spying measures. The identified spies will be legally charged, and the equipment used by them will be captured and analyzed. A major operation will be needed to reverse Australian espionage. Even though all agents and equipment involved are neutralized, it is impossible to calculate how much data has already been collected and transmitted to foreign governments.
This is not the first time that Australia has been involved in espionage scandals against China. In 2018, Chinese authorities discovered and neutralized a similar activity coordinated by Australia, arresting and capturing various intelligence agents, equipment and financial resources. Since then, other small cases involving Australian espionage against China have been reported, but without major media effects or repercussions. What we must take into account, however, is that intelligence and counterintelligence activities are extremely delicate and their investigations are generally conducted under State secrecy, so it is still likely that there are much more information involving these cases that will never be made public.
An interesting point informed by the Chinese legal authorities was the international dimension of Australian espionage. According to the authorities, not only the Chinese and Australian territories are suffering from the activities, but also overseas areas, with Australian agents around the world investigating the Chinese presence in several countries. It was reported that Australian intelligence was still encouraging the desertion of Chinese citizens and training them on the Swan Island, where defectors were trained to develop the skills necessary for the espionage service, and were later sent back to China, where they are working in collecting data to Canberra.
Although Australia is a national state without major geopolitical projections, its commitment to the liberal global order is undeniable. Australia is a member of the so-called “Five Eyes Alliance”, a group including five English-speaking countries (USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand) with a common agreement: mutual assistance in intelligence operations and sharing the collected data. The Alliance has been operating on all continents since its founding in 1941, and today is one of the most complex and equipped intelligence and espionage groups in the world. From this perspective, we can see that no intelligence operation guided by one of the Alliance’s member countries can be analyzed as merely “national”, but as part of a data sharing alliance, which increases the seriousness of the case and raises concerns on the part of the Chinese State.
This means that most likely the data and information collected by Australian intelligence on China is already being provided to other Alliance countries, including the United States, with whom China is currently engaged in a trade war. In fact, what seems clear is that the Western axis has made Australia – a country without great international intentions, that resigns to be under the American umbrella – a fortress of intelligence and espionage, from where spies are sent to the main enemies of the West without raising the same suspicion that they would raise from Washington or London. In this sense, Australia can be considered a power in terms of intelligence, representing a similar threat to the great military powers.
In the contemporary world, war has completely changed its meaning, becoming a much more complex and organized activity, including intelligence mechanisms, cyber espionage, information control and commercial disputes. Currently, it is impossible to analyze a country’s defense potential just by the number of war tanks, fighter planes or military ships, requiring a complex analysis, which includes the power of intelligence and the insertion on the information warfare. In the liberal world order, Australia occupies this role as coordinator of intelligence activities for its allied countries. Now, for Beijing, Canberra represents a real threat, analogous to that of the great military powers. And perhaps this diagnosis is the same in any country labeled by the West as an “enemy”.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.