MELBOURNE, Australia – When Australian authorities announced their first arrest under the country’s new foreign intervention law this week, they said little about what the accused was accused of doing, and said nothing about the land. the country in which he is said to have worked.
However, the implications are clear. This man is a prominent member of the Chinese Australian community, having participated in one of the country’s major political parties. And he was charged under sweeping national security law, passed in 2018, seen by many as targeting China, and Beijing has called it an insult.
The arrest of the man, Di Sanh Duong, known as Sunny, follows a breakdown in relations between China and Australia, which in recent weeks has been made worse by signs that Beijing is on the way. restrict buying a wide range of goods from Australia’s export-dependent economy.
Tensions have simmered for years as Australia complained about Chinese meddling in its politics, universities and media. In September, Chinese news outlets reported that Australian intelligence officials raided the homes of four Chinese journalists, and visas of two Chinese scholars were canceled by the Australian government for national security reasons. family.
But given Australia’s initial restraint in describing the case against Mr. Duong, it is not clear whether the arrest will aggravate the situation.
“China is very concerned about passing the law, because of its rhetoric,” said Yun Jiang, editor of the China Stories blog at Australian National University and director of China Policy Center. at that time very aimed at China.
“In this case,” she added, “we don’t have that much rhetoric in the official government position – officially they haven’t even named the country yet – so for now we are there are no such hard words towards China. “
However, if Australia spoke more about the incident and made public relations with Beijing, “China could react more strongly,” said Ms. Jiang.
Duong was charged in Melbourne on Thursday on charges of “preparing for a crime of foreign intervention” and was released on bail. Mr. Duong, 65, faces a 10-year prison sentence if convicted, is of Chinese descent and has served on the boards of several Chinese-Australian community groups.
Federal police said in a statement that they had taken “deterrent action to disrupt this individual at an early stage.” They said Duong’s arrest came after a year-long investigation and ransacked several properties related to him in October.
A person familiar with the details of the raids said police were investigating whether Yang was trying to influence the acting federal Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge, and whether the conduct was confirmed. reputation or coordinate with the Chinese Communist Party or not.
In June, Mr. Tudge appeared with Mr. Duong at an event where Mr. Duong on behalf of a community association he led, the Federation of Chinese Organizations in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, was donating a donation to a hospital in Melbourne. Mr. Tudge has not been accused of any misconduct.
A person familiar with the raids, anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the incident, also participated in the fundraising, and said the money was intended to help the hospital make up for the lack of personal protective equipment. as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, Mr. Yang wrote in an autobiography that he had been a member of the conservative Liberal Party since 1992 and helped set up a local branch under his chair.
The autobiography also states that Mr. Duong was born in Vietnam and fled the country’s Communist regime in 1979 to go to Melbourne, where he quickly took part in “public welfare activities and Chinese-Australian community ”.
Ms. Jiang, the Australian National University, said the lawsuit against Mr. Yang is very important because it is the first time the government has given an example of what constitutes foreign interference under the new law.
However, she said it was still unclear exactly what that would be, given limited information about the case – specifically Mr. Duong donated in the presence of the government minister and one of the groups that he helped lead the way as part of the United Front Work Department, the Communist Party’s unit that controls policy toward overseas Chinese.
Australian media reported that another director of the group, China United Peace Promotion Council, was Huang Xiangmo, who was banned from leaving Australia for national security reasons about two years ago.
Ms. Jiang noted that membership in a community group itself is not enough to prove that Mr. Yang has engaged in illegal activities and the group remains legal in Australia.