Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lost control of his WeChat account, which is owned by China, and a politician accused China’s authorities of political meddling on Monday.
Morrison’s 76,000 WeChat followers were alerted earlier this month that his profile had been renamed “Australian Chinese new life” and that his photo had been deleted, according to Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper. According to the study, the adjustments were done without the knowledge of the administration.
Morrison’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
WeChat has not responded to an Australian government request to reinstate the prime minister’s account, according to James Paterson, chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security.
With Australia’s elections looming in May, Paterson accused the Chinese Communist Party of censoring the prime minister.
Paterson, a member of Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party, has called for a boycott of the platform, which is controlled by Chinese internet giant Tencent.
“The Chinese government has interfered with Australian democracy in an election year by shutting down an Australian account,” Paterson said.
Paterson expressed worry that 1.2 million Chinese Australians who use the site were unable to see news from the prime minister, but could still see opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s critiques of the government.
Morrison is one of at least a dozen Australian politicians who use WeChat accounts now registered to Chinese residents, according to Fergus Ryan, an Australian Strategic Policy Institute Chinese social media specialist.
Dave Sharma, a member of the Liberal Party and a veteran diplomat, believes the involvement was likely sanctioned by the Chinese government.
Morrison, according to Sharma, utilized WeChat to communicate with Australia’s Chinese community. However, the Chinese Communist Party ultimately controls social media.
“It was most certainly state-sanctioned, and it demonstrates Beijing’s stance toward free speech and freedom of expression,” Sharma added.
Morrison’s account was registered to a Chinese person in China’s Fujian province, according to Graeme Smith, a China expert at the Australian National University.
“Hacking an account within China isn’t the most difficult thing to do,” Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I don’t believe we have any idea who is behind this.” Smith continued, “I dare think we could reasonably claim it was at least influenced by the Chinese government.”
Morrison’s WeChat issue, Smith argued, was not indication that China would endorse Albanese’s center-left Labor Party in the next election.
“They don’t give a damn about who wins the election,” Smith remarked. “It doesn’t matter who wins as long as people don’t trust democracy,” says the author.
Albanese said he will speak with Morrison about “any national security ramifications” of the prime minister’s WeChat issue, according to Brisbane Radio 4BC.
Since taking over as Prime Minister in 2018, Morrison has had a tense relationship with China.
The Chinese have criticized a new collaboration established in September between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, under which Australia would get nuclear-powered submarines.