Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s WeChat account was taken over last week and turned into a propaganda account for the Chinese Communist Party.
Morrison’s account was purchased by a Chinese businessman, Huang Aipeng – CEO of Fuzhou 985 Information Technology because they wanted a ‘large account with lots of followers’. According to him, the account was purchased from the original owner – who was not the Prime Minister of Australia but rather a Chinese national named Mr Ji from Fuzhou.
“He [Ji] didn’t tell me who was using the account,” said Huang to the ABC. “I don’t even know who Morrison is. I saw the account has a lot of followers, so we bought it.”
The Prime Minister’s account with 76,000 followers was bought in November 2021, without the government noticing.
It was renamed, ‘Australian Chinese new life’ and promises to proved helpful tips for people arriving in China.
The sale was approved by WeChat. The Prime Minister’s account was set up via a Chinese agency, which may explain why it’s not actually owned by the Australian Government. Foreign nationals are not allowed to directly own WeChat accounts.
In other words, the Prime Minister is using a workaround to circumnavigate WeChat’s rules and that vulnerability has been exploited.
As the ABC points out, WeChat’s terms of service make it clear that the owner, in this case Ji, is not permitted to allow ‘any non-initial registration applicant to use the Weixin [WeChat] account’.
Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, refused to respond to the Australian government’s desperate attempts to regain control of their account. Furious, James Paterson – Chair of Parliament’s Intelligence Committee, has levelled blame at the Chinese Communist Party and accused them of committing an act of foreign interference.
Interestingly, WeChat’s terms of service also prohibit the sale of WeChat accounts, but Tencent has shown no sign of backing down. The company is aware that the Australian Prime Minister was using the account because Tencent temporarily blocked it in 2020 when the Chinese and Australian governments ended up in a very public political spat over China’s faked solider images posted on social media.
Huang is planning to finish deleting the Prime Minister’s content.
Scott Morrison is not the only minister flouting WeChat’s rules to reach Chinese Australians.
But really, what did the Australian government expect from a nation famous for propaganda and censorship?