Chinese Australians warn of sleeper agents
13 July 2020
Hong Kong nationals living in Australia are urging the Morrison government to undertake strict political vetting of those fleeing the territory, fearing Chinese Communist Party supporters could take advantage of Scott Morrison’s resettlement offer.
Security experts warn Beijing could use the opportunity to plant sleeper agents in Australia, while the sons and daughters of senior CCP officials studying in Australia could also seek a path to permanent residency.
The Australian can reveal family members of at least two senior Hong Kong government officials — Education Secretary Yeung Yun-hung, and pro-Beijing politician Tam Yiu-chung — are living in Australia.
Hong Kong migrants to Australia also fear the families of Hong Kong police members — who led a year-long battle with pro-democracy protesters — could seek Australian residency.
The Australian government, which has prioritised entry under skilled visa categories, is bracing for a wave of asylum claims from Hong Kong Chinese after 137 applied for refugee status in the year to June 30.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge told the ABC’s Insiders program that Beijing’s new national security laws in Hong Kong from July 1 “certainly change the equation” for residents of the territory.
He said the 10,000 Hong Kong passport holders currently in Australia, whose visas will be extended for five years, would “almost certainly” be able to get permanent residency if they met character and security tests.
Mr Tudge told The Australian: “Our national security is our number one priority. Our strict character and security checking regime applies to all applicants.”
Jane Poon, from the pro-democracy group Australia-Hong Kong Link, pointed to past instances in which Chinese nationals had been allowed permanent residency but remained loyal to Beijing.
“A lot of Hong Kongers who are residing here, or studying here, are saying the Australian government should think about political background checks,” she said. “A lot of Hong Kongers in Australia still have families residing in Hong Kong. They don‘t want some abusers’ families coming to Australia and living next door.”
The Morrison government has offered a range of special visa arrangements for Hong Kong Chinese, including a five-year graduate visa for Hong Kong students, five-year temporary skilled visas and new incentives to attract highly skilled migrants and businesses.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s offer of “safe haven” for Hong Kongers, Mr Tudge said existing refugee pathways would be open to territory residents.
“If people are genuinely persecuted and they can prove that case, then they can apply for one of our humanitarian visas in any case,” he said.
Mr Yeung, whose department is mandating new pro-China textbooks, has a son and daughter in Australia.
Mr Tam has family members in Australia including his son, who has become a citizen.
Security consultant Neil Fergus, CEO of Intelligent Risks, said ASIO would undertake checks on all Hong Kongers seeking to come to Australia.
“There are a range of questions that would be put to these people and while there is no guarantee that their answers will be accurate, there is a record taken in terms of their membership of different groups and associations, and any false answers would rule them out of coming here,” Mr Fergus told The Australian.
He warned those who came to Australia under the arrangements would also be targets for CCP influence, saying they could be “weighed upon” by local arms of Beijing’s international influence arm, the United Front Work Department.
Backbenchers on both sides of politics said there was a legitimate fear in the Chinese community and in the government that CCP agents could slip into Australia.
But one Liberal MP said the concerns should not be used “as an excuse not to take people”.
“Some people will mischievously say that, ‘Well, there might be CCP plants in there so we should not take anyone’,” the MP said.
“But we want to take people, we want to provide them safety and benefit from their talents. But we should be judicious about it.”
The Australian government, and CCP critics in Australia’s Chinese diaspora, are anxious to prevent a new influx of pro-Beijing cadres.
Past decisions show there can be serious costs in failing to detect agents of CCP influence.
Real estate developer and political donor Huang Xiangmo, who gave $2.7m to Australian political parties, was a permanent resident but later barred on national security grounds.