According to The Age, the WeChat account of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was taken over earlier this month without his consent.
As The Daily Telegraph reported, Morrison’s WeChat account was converted after his last log-out in July. It was set up by a third party in China in 2019 and has accumulated around 76,000 followers before being taken over and renamed into Australian Chinese new life. The account has not updated anything since being taken over.
The Prime Minister’s Office said they had tried to reclaim the account for months but failed. Since a third party established the account for him, he had no ownership rights. The account was later sold to business owner Huang Aiping who was completely unaware that it previously represented Morrison.
Huang initially wanted to offer his service to the Chinese community in Australia, but the incident has prompted the business to think of switching elsewhere.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Huang said, “We are now highly likely to cancel this account or switch it to overseas Chinese in other regions, such as the United States, and try to avoid Australia as much as possible in the future, due to the current circumstances because the account used to belong to the Australian Prime Minister.”
According to Bastion Asia, a marketing firm, WeChat appears as a ruling communication means in China and among the Chinese diaspora worldwide with more than one billion users.
Therefore, WeChat has become a powerful election tool in Melbourne and Sydney ahead of the upcoming election, due by May.
Saying that the move equates to foreign interference from the Chinese authorities, Australian politicians are calling for a parliament-wide boycott of the social platform service.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News, “I’d urge all those in Australia to have a second think about using WeChat as a platform.”
He slammed, “This sort of political distorting of a communication platform, obviously deserves condemnation and shows that WeChat as a communications platform cannot be trusted.”
Victorian Liberal MP Gladys Liu has announced that she will not use her accounts until the app owner explains. She said the incident was “deeply disappointing and raised serious concerns of political interference.”
Gladys Liu called on all Australian politicians to “take it extremely seriously.”
She said, “In an election year especially, this sort of interference in our political processes is unacceptable, and this matter should be taken extremely seriously by all Australian politicians.”
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and Assistant Minister to Prime Minister David Coleman confirmed they would not be using their WeChat accounts in the near future.
Alex Hawke’s spokesman said that he “looks forward to an explanation as to the misappropriation of the Australian Prime Minister’s WeChat account.”
According to Bloomberg, Liberal Senator James Paterson, chairman of Parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security, said, “My view is that WeChat is such a closely controlled company by the Chinese Communist Party, that this amounts to foreign interference in our democracy and in an election year no less.”
He considered the incident “pretty clearly and transparently an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party” to “censor the Australian Prime Minister and prevent him from campaigning to the Chinese Australian community.”
Sky News said Paterson has also appealed to Anthony Albanese, leader of the opposite party, to boycott the platform.
Former diplomat Dave Sharma, the current lawmaker in Morrison’s coalition, considers the account-blocking act as “more likely than not state-sanctioned.”
He explained, “It shows the attitude towards free speech and freedom of expression that comes out of Beijing.”