Senior Coalition MPs have accused China’s government of foreign interference after the Prime Minister’s account on the ubiquitous Chinese language messaging app WeChat was hijacked.
As first reported by NewsCorp Australia, Scott Morrison’s account on the massive Chinese social media platform WeChat has been renamed and the account description changed.
Its new name is now “New Life for Chinese Australians”, and the description “providing living in Australia information for the Chinese community”.
“Thank you for your continued interest in our WeChat public account. Scott Morrison, the WeChat public account you previously followed, has moved all its operations and functions to this WeChat public account,” a post on the account said.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s account remains active.
Coalition MP and chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee James Paterson said he believed the move was an act of foreign interference by the Chinese government.
“WeChat is owned by TenCent, which is one of the most closely controlled, theoretically private companies in China,” he told Sky News
“It censors the platform all over the world. It uses the platform to surveil and monitor the overseas Chinese community.
“It is very clearly a Chinese government action in my view.”
“What the Chinese government has done by shutting down the Prime Minister’s account is effectively foreign interference in our democracy in an election year,” Mr Paterson told Nine Radio.
Federal government frontbencher Stuart Robert said the government was working with WeChat to try to resolve the issue.
“The government speaks through many … channels to our Chinese community … but [the change] is odd and the Prime Minister’s office is seeking to connect to them to work out and get a result,” he said.
WeChat official accounts, an equivalent of Facebook’s official pages, allow public figures, media companies and businesses to connect to more than 1.2 billion active users who mainly reside in mainland China.
For Scott Morrison to open an official WeChat account in 2019, the social media platform needed the account owner to either supply the ID of a Chinese national who would act as the “account operator”, or tie their account to a business registered in China.
Mr Morrison’s WeChat account was tied to an unknown male Chinese citizen from the southern province of Fujian, according to the ID’s details logged with WeChat.
At the time, Mr Morrison’s office declined the ABC’s request for comment on the Chinese national tied to the Prime Minister’s account.
Similar to Facebook’s official page policy, an owner is allowed to change the name of the page, and the previous names of the page are also listed in the description.
It is common for users to change the name of official pages on WeChat.