Op-ed by Yan Xia, the chief editor of Vision China Times, an independent Chinese language media in Australia.
After Australian mainstream media The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel 9’s 60 minutes consecutive coverage on the defection of a Chinese spy from the Chinese Communist Party, the Vision China Times (VCT) website also published “Breaking news: A Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intelligence officer defects to Australia — an interview with Wang Liqiang.” The ripple effect from these reports has reached far and wide, causing outrage, support, denials, agreements, and a lot of questions. The head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) issued a statement claiming they will not comment on this news. According to reliable sources, Wang Liqiang’s lawyer requested him to remain silent for the time being and not to respond to any outside queries. Wang Liqiang’s case has become a swirl of mystery.
In early October, a Vision China Times reporter unexpectedly encountered a man from China, Wang Liqiang, and learned that he had filed a report with ASIO that the CCP had used an investment company in Hong Kong to conduct espionage, with large-scale intelligence operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia. He claimed to have applied for an Australian protection visa. Around the same time that Channel 9 reporter Nick McKenzie started interviewing Wang Liqiang, our own reporter also interviewed him. VCT’s full Chinese report, confirmed by Mr. Wang Liqiang, was made public after the mainstream English reports were published.
Faced with overwhelming inquiries and doubts from various parties, as well as speculations and questions, our reporter conducted a special interview with Mr. Yan Xia, editor-in-chief of Vision Times Australia. Below are the details of his response.
Reporter: The interview of Wang Liqiang sparked an explosion of public opinion. Was this predicted by him?
Yan Xia: Probably not. Wang Liqiang had given all the information and evidence to ASIO and applied for a protection visa from the Department of Home Affairs. He thought after handing over such secrets, there was no going back, but the slow response from the Department of Home Affairs made him very uneasy. I believe the reason Wang Liqiang is willing to be interviewed by both Chinese and Western media is quite simple — he hoped to prove his authenticity through media exposure to speed up his asylum-seeking. But the ripple effect went far beyond his predictions. He became perplexed and he believes he had enough evidence to prove it all, but he didn’t know how to work with it; hence, now there is a human rights lawyer on his case to help him.
Reporter: VCT’s exclusive interview has been widely quoted. Is it because our report is more comprehensive than The Age?
Yan Xia: It is indeed so. Western reporters only select the parts they can understand from the interview, while VCT’s original Chinese interview content is rich and extensive. However, in the final review, bearing in mind the many details that needed to be confirmed, the scope involved should not be too broad or inconsistent with the interview by Channel 9, and also for various legal reasons, we had to edit out details as well as withholding specific names of relevant personnel and organizations. Despite this, the coverage of our reporting remains quite extensive. The final article published has not only kept the original words of the interviewee, but has also met the principles of news reporting.
Reporter: The outside world has gathered all the focus on the authenticity of Wang Liqiang’s identity. What do you think?
Yan Xia: First of all, I believe many uncertainties can be easily verified through the cooperation of various parties, but if the CCP intends to disrupt the investigation and verification process, then these uncertainties will become more confusing.
Take identification documents, for example. Wang Liqiang currently has three passports and a Hong Kong residency card. Other than the one passport he (Wang Liqiang) used to enter Australia, the other two passports (a Chinese passport and Korean passport), and his Hong Kong residency card uses his own photo, but different names and dates of birth. He said that the three fake documents were provided by the CCP specifically for the convenience of his work in Taiwan.
On the night that Wang Liqiang’s news broke out in Australia, the Shanghai police issued a statement claiming that the so-called People’s Republic of China passport documents and Hong Kong permanent resident identification documents that he held were all forged. The statement also claimed that Wang Liqiang was sentenced to one year and three months in October 2016, and probation of one year and six months. The statement was reported by the Xin Hua news agency, that is to say, the statement exists.
Then, here’s the problem. In today’s high-tech world, private individuals are basically incapable of forging passports. Only specialized national agencies have this capability. Even if the passports Wang Liqiang used to leave Hong Kong and enter Australia were forged, then who exactly is he?
Alex Joske, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has a good command of Mandarin. He was directly involved in the process of cross-checking Wang Liqiang’s evidence. In his article on November 25, he said that the Chinese government at Guangze County, Fujian Province, had the evidence for Wang Liqiang’s conviction, but Wang Liqiang had a “no-criminal record” police check issued by the same local police station in February this year.
There are lots of discussions questioning the authenticity of the court ruling, which contradicts the police check issued. Will the Chinese government declare that the “no-criminal record” police clearance is a fake? Public opinion is vacillating between the Chinese government versus Wang Liqiang. Exactly whose legal documents are fake? Alex Joske said that defections are messy and “we don’t know the full story and we probably never will.”
In this so-called “spy story,” does Wang Liqiang even exist in this world? Perhaps no one knows other than himself.
Reporter: Do you think Wang Liqiang is a CCP spy?
Yan Xia: According to his statements in our interview, strictly speaking, he is not a well-trained CCP agent. He may have just accidentally stepped into the world of espionage.
From Wang Liqiang’s statement, it is obvious that he is an artist and has considerable achievements in painting and later went into a Chinese-funded enterprise in Shanghai. He later went to Hong Kong and was employed by China Innovation Investment Limited (CIIL). He was well-liked by the CEO Xiang Xin and his wife. After becoming the personal art mentor for Xiang Xin’s wife, he earned the couple’s trust and became their external liaison. During this process, he learned a lot of secrets and was involved in many secret operations.
Wang Liqiang said that Mrs. Xiang often travels to and from Taiwan, and is responsible for interference operations in Taiwan. In May this year, he was asked to travel to Taiwan using new identification. This was a difficult choice for him as he wanted to live a peaceful life in Australia with his family. In the end, he refused, and this later led to him speaking out the truth in exchange for Australian residency. The deeper reason for this is so far unknown, but it still makes sense logically. After all, he is not a real intelligence operative; he is an emotional artist.
I believe those discussions trying to analyze Wang Liqiang based on the characteristics of a secret agent may have taken the wrong direction. If it turns out that everything about Wang Liqiang is true, then it can only be said that Xiang Xin and his wife are a careless couple who made a low-level mistake, because artists are temperament in nature, not cold-hearted.
Reporter: The greatest dispute in the discussions is over money. Han Kuo-yu, a presidential candidate in Taiwan’s 2020 elections, vows that he did not take a single dollar from the CCP. What do you think?
Yan Xia: As a public political figure, it is possible that Han Kuo-yu or those seemingly neutral media did not receive money directly, not because they weren’t given it, but because they didn’t dare to take it due to fear of exposure. I won’t discuss whether it is true that 20 million RMB was donated to Han. I can only say that such things can happen. Wang Liqiang did not say that 20 million was transferred to Han Kuo-yu’s bank account. He said that the CCP donated 20 million RMB to support him to run for the presidential election.
What is this concept? Let’s look at an Australian example: According to the investigation by the Australian Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), in 2015, Huang Xiangmo, a wealthy Chinese property businessman violated NSW laws and donated A$100,000 (approximately 500,000 RMB) to the NSW Labor Party in a fundraising activity. The method was to divide the A$100,000 into 20 shares and donate them to the Labor Party through 20 “scarecrow donors.”
As a result, a few years later, one of the persons involved confessed to the incident. The ICAC became involved, but the investigation is still ongoing to this day. The Labor Party admitted to receiving the money, but Huang Xiangmo claims to be unaware of this situation. Former NSW MP Ernest Wong fully denied the incident, and as for the “scarecrows,” some confessed, some remained silent, and one committed suicide.
Interference methods used by the CCP are the same everywhere. The key is whether the “scarecrow” will confess if they are accused of being one? How would one expose these kinds of dealings? And in Han’s case, whether he is innocent or guilty depends on the ability of the Taiwan police.
In fact, in the interview, due to legal reasons, we removed all the information about the actual “scarecrows,” because this is not a matter for media to expose. Similarly, for those media who are accused by Wang of being bought out, money can be transferred in the form of advertising, sponsorship, shares, etc. The CCP’s method is to divide large figures into smaller figures, and then aggregate them back. Everything is opaque and seamless.
Reporter: Since there will be no investigation outcome immediately, the CCP authorities should not be so nervous, right?
Yan Xia: Personally, I think, so far, no matter whether it is interference operations or kidnappings in Hong Kong, or the disruption of Taiwan, based on the contents of the media reports, no investigative conclusions can be made immediately. What really angered the CCP authorities is that Wang Liqiang exposed the truth of CIIL and the true identity of the CEO and his wife. Of course, we only report on the contents of the interview, and cannot determine its authenticity. If it is the truth, it will be a disastrous blow to the CCP’s spy network.
Actually, there is a strange phenomenon. When I first saw the interview materials, I straight away searched the Internet and found information about CILL and Mr. and Mrs. Xiang. At the time, I could see the company’s complete profile and a detailed personnel list. But now, a lot of details have been removed. Furthermore, the media is serious about cross-checking their work. Investigative journalist Nick McKenzie of Channel 9 contacted the company and Xiang Xin himself many times for comment, but was rejected each time. If he is innocent, why didn’t he provide evidence to prove his innocence or perhaps try to prevent the show from being broadcast? It wasn’t until the news spread around the world that the Shanghai Police Department issued a statement claiming Wang’s passport was fake, and Xiang Xin told The New York Times he didn’t know Wang Liqiang. Actually, this entire situation revolves around the relationship between Wang and Xiang. If there was no evidence of their close relationship, how would Wang be able to prove his authenticity to Australia’s intelligence authorities? Does Xiang think the whole world is very naïve?
Reporter: According to reports, The Taiwan police department issued a notice of investigation to Mr. and Mrs. Xiang at the Taiwan airport What do you think will happen?
Yan Xia: I am unable to predict. According to reliable sources, Wang Liqiang has handed over all evidence to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). For legal reasons, as media, we cannot make public actual evidence. It really depends on how the Taiwan authorities handle this.
I can only say that the whole saga shows how the inaction of Taiwan authorities has made them miss opportunities and left them in a difficult position. The media’s role is to complete interviews and reporting tasks. The rest is up to Taiwan’s security and intelligence agencies, which should be seizing this rare opportunity to launch a comprehensive investigation. If it is really a state-directed crime, the more public it is, the harder it will be for investigations, and it may forever remain a mystery.
In my opinion, as media, our reporting is very complete and we have done our job. It is now up to the relevant government bodies to take further action.