Australia Prime Minister Loses Access of WeChat Account As Election Day Nears
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reported to have lost control of his WeChat account after a lesser-known Chinese technology company took it over.
An employee from the technology company in question, Fuzhou 985 Technology, said that they were not aware that the WeChat account they bought was Morrison's. The company did the whole transaction with a Chinese male living in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province. He also mentioned that the company was looking for an account that focuses on the Chinese community in Australia.
"We thought this account had a large fanbase, so we decided to buy it," the employee, Huang, said.
Morrison uses his WeChat account as a public information board that provides information on his policies in Mandarin for Australian voters who are of Chinese descent. The account had 76,000 followers before the takeover happened.
Fuzhou 985 rebranded Morrison's WeChat account to "Australian Chinese New Life" on 28 October 2021, with its first and last post dated 9 July 2021. The company was planning to use Morrison's former WeChat account to promote Chinese life in Australia.
These activities coincide with what James Paterson, Australia's Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Chair, said about Morrison's WeChat account. According to him, Morrison lost access to his WeChat account several months ago - a move that Australia's national security experts interpreted as censorship by the Chinese government due to diplomatic tensions between Australia and China.
Paterson said that although the Australian government had sent a direct appeal to WeChat to restore Morrison's access, it has yet to receive a reply. He also confirmed Morrison's WeChat account to have been taken down on 24 January 2022, calling the takeover a hack and "a transparent attempt" to interfere with Australia's democracy during an election year.
Tencent, the owner and operator of WeChat, said that there was no evidence that Morrison's account was hacked and that the entire issue "appears to be a dispute over account ownership". "The account in question was originally registered by a PRC individual and was subsequently transferred to its current operator, a technology services company - and it will be handled in accordance with our platform rules," Tencent said in a statement. "Tencent is committed to upholding the integrity of our platform and the security of all user accounts, and we will continue to look into this matter further."
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry of Affairs, called the takeover an "issue between Morrison and WeChat" during a press conference on 24 January 2021.
"The accusation of China's interference is nothing but unfounded denigration and smear," Zhao Lijian said. "We never engage in and have no interest in foreign interference."
Scott Morrison, Australia's Prime Minister, claims that his WeChat account was hacked mid-last year.
Morrison's account was rebranded to "Australian Chinese New Life" by Fuzhou 985 Technology, a lesser-known Chinese tech company looking to buy a WeChat account targeting the Chinese community in Australia.
Fuzhou 985 Technology didn't know the WeChat account they bought was Morrison's and Tencent said there was no evidence of Morrison's account being hacked.