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Australia Revealed: 'Spymaster' linked to Australian defector has deep links to defence industry

02:06  12 december  2019
02:06  12 december  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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A book chapter on China’s defence industry co-authored by Mr The documents refer to the links but Mr Wang’s statement, if true, takes this further with a purported insider's account into It has barred them from leaving while an investigation is underway. As Mr Xiang and his wife were stopped at the

The defence industry of Australia provides military equipment, supplies and services for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and export customers. Definitions of what the defence industry comprises and estimates of its size differ, but it was believed to have employed between 12

A soldier from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) watches a confrontation between police and protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November.© AP A soldier from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) watches a confrontation between police and protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November.

In 2008 a small listed company called Sino Technologies filed a short but remarkable announcement to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

A new fund designed to invest in defence technology would be overseen by a most unusual and rarified steering committee. It was made up of a who’s who of the Chinese military’s opaque defence technology apparatus.

The first name on the steering committee list was Nie Li, the daughter of one of the Chinese revolution’s most lauded marshals who had herself risen to military greatness, becoming China’s first female lieutenant general.

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Labor has long held the view that a significant defence industry not only provides high end manufacturing jobs to Australians but also adds to our ‘The capacity to maintain, repair, modify and adapt defence equipment to the Australian environment, independently of overseas sources, is of

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General Nie Li was also the former deputy director of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's technology agency, the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND).

As an impeccably well-connected member of China’s elite, General Nie has overseen the Chinese military’s development of supercomputers, radar systems and naval armaments.

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Defecting Chinese spy Wang Liqiang is living in hiding in Sydney.© Steven Siewert Defecting Chinese spy Wang Liqiang is living in hiding in Sydney.

Joining her on the Sino Technologies steering committee were two retired major generals who had also worked for COSTIND.

While there was no public reporting of the stock exchange filing at the time, it is likely it would have triggered interest in Washington.

Since COSTIND’s inception in 1982, the US government has closely tracked its role and that of other Chinese government agencies because, as a 1997 US Congress briefing paper stated, “members of COSTIND have attempted to steal foreign, especially American, technology for military applications.”

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These are external links and will open in a new window. Sensitive information about Australia 's defence programmes has been stolen in an "extensive" cyber hack. "It could be one of a number of different actors," Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne told the Australian Broadcasting Corp

These COSTIND agents have often posed as business people under the "New Era" Group brand ("Xinshidai" in Chinese) - a business empire set up by COSTIND itself.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Xiang Xin.© Supplied Xiang Xin.

The businessman who announced General Nie’s appointment in 2008 was Xiang Xin.

The same man was recently named for the first time in Australian media reports by Wang Liqiang - a man who described himself in stories in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald and on 60 Minutes as a spy.

He had moved to Sydney and sought political asylum as a former co-optee of an alleged Chinese intelligence officer. Mr Xiang, he said, was his spymaster.

Casting doubt

Mr Wang claimed he had joined a company in 2014 that was owned by Mr Xiang while finishing his undergraduate degree.

According to Wang, he quickly gained his boss's trust and played a small but important role in covert Chinese government operations, including the kidnapping of a Hong Kong bookseller, and online interference in Taiwanese politics.

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For several years, Australian defence industry has been able to access Government support for joining such supply chains. The Defence Department has the luxury of being able to take a much more focussed approach in considering possible objectives for a defence industry strategy.

Leading Chinese intelligence expert Peter Mattis pointed to security agency and scholarly analysis about the unique role of co-optees in the Chinese system and ASIO’s director-general Mike Burgess issued a rare public statement revealing his agency was assessing Mr Wang’s claims seriously.

a group of people standing in front of a car: China Innovation Investment Ltd. officials Xiang Xin and his wife Gong Qing get out of a car at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Taiwan.© EBC China Innovation Investment Ltd. officials Xiang Xin and his wife Gong Qing get out of a car at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Taiwan.

But some commentators cast doubt on Mr Wang’s claims, and the Chinese Communist Party called him a fake and released a video through one of its media outlets purporting to show him in a courtroom in 2016 being sentenced for fraud. Mr Xiang has also denied even knowing Mr Wang.

While much of Mr Wang’s story — also outlined in a sworn statement provided to ASIO— is hard to verify, independent documents unearthed by The Age, the Heraldand the Australian Strategic Policy Institute support his claims about some of Mr Xiang’s connections and operations. They offer new insights into how Mr Xiang operated within a web of COSTIND-linked individuals.

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6 External links . Background. Chen had been a university student in Beijing during the On 7 July, a Chinese defector in Canada using the name Han Guangsheng emerged to support Chen and Hao's Following the granting of protection visas to Chen and his family, he has met with Australian

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This is a network of businesses and Chinese military entities whose structure and operation have long eluded those seeking to better understand Beijing’s sprawling intelligence system.

A 'New Era'

Mr Wang alleged that his former boss had been sent to Hong Kong in 1993 by COSTIND leaders Nie Li and her husband Ding Henggao.

Prior to launching Sino Technologies - now called China Innovation Investment Limited or CIIL - documents show Mr Xiang created several companies in Hong Kong in that incorporated "Xinshidai" (New Era) in their names. Their logos bear striking similarities to those of the Chinese military's New Era group companies.

The beneficial ownership of some of these ostensibly privately-owned "Xinshidai" companies is obscure, with their principal shareholders operating from the tax havens in the Bahamas, Nuie and the British Virgin Islands.

At least six of Mr Xiang’s associates can be linked to COSTIND.

Mr Xiang's wife, Gong Qing worked in the China National Defence Technology Information Centre, described in a US Congressional Research Service report as the public-facing name of COSTIND’s Intelligence Research Institute.

In 2005, a businessman named Pang Weizhong was listed as a director of SNG Hong Kong Limited, a company partially owned by one of Mr Xiang’s Hong Kong firms. Mr Pang uses a Beijing address belonging to Mr Xiang's companies, and he previously worked as an executive at two of COSTIND’s companies in Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong. Mr Pang has also worked in a charitable scientific association that had Lieutenant General Nie Li as its honorary president.

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Like Australia ’s Defence Industry Security Program, the US Cybersecurity Maturity Model Compliance is a Australian refrigeration specialist Cold Logic and UK naval refrigeration supplier Ernest West & Beynon have signed an exclusive memorandum of understanding for work on the Hunter class frigates.

The Australian Industry and Defence Network Victoria. The Australian Defence Alliance (ADA) currently helps over 300 Australian businesses gain a greater share of this massive global supply Strong links into Department of Defence Strategy, Industry Policy & Procurement policy-making.

Li Tongyu, executive director of Mr Xiang's company CIIL from 2003 to 2005, worked for a Chinese satellite corporation when it was supervised by COSTIND. In 1999, he was deputy CEO of a satellite launch firm described by PLA expert James Mulvenon as "one of [COSTIND’s] most important companies". Li is currently an executive at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation—China’s state-owned missile and satellite manufacturer,  where he heads the Long March 11 rocket program.

Another CIIL alumnus is Luo Xiuqing, who worked as a senior executive in two COSTIND-supervised defence companies. Wang Qingyu, non-executive director and chairman of CIIL from 2005 to 2009, was president of a university administered by COSTIND and an executive in one of China’s largest arms manufacturers.

One of Mr Xiang’s most intriguing business partners is Guo Yijun, the general manager of a Beijing company that is majority-owned by a company set up by Mr Xiang and his wife. A book chapter on China’s defence industry co-authored by Mr Guo in 1987 indicates he worked in COSTIND, possibly in its intelligence bureau.

Covert operations

These examples may only scrape the surface of Mr Xiang’s ties to China’s defence system.

Mr Xiang's public biography is vague about his time in mainland China. It notes that he graduated from Nanjing University of Science and Technology—then subordinate to COSTIND — and "has worked in a number of large organisations in the PRC".

But his company’s investment activity — which includes a litany of deals with Chinese defence companies such as Norinco Group — makes it clear that one focus is on technologies with military applications, and that it operates with the backing of powerful figures in China’s military establishment.

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The documents refer to the links but Mr Wang’s statement, if true, takes this further with a purported insider's account into the contemporary activities of the network. Mr Wang said he was personally involved in interfering in Hong Kong universities - recruiting students to combat the independence movement - and running a covert cyber campaign to influence political debate in Taiwan with the ultimate aim of supporting pro-Beijing candidates.

Taiwan takes action

On the weekend the stories dropped and just hours after the Chinese government dismissed Wang as a lying fraudster, the Taiwanese government stopped Mr Xiang and his wife Gong Qing — also alleged by Wang to be linked to COSTIND — as they attempted to leave the country. It has barred them from leaving while an investigation is underway.

As Mr Xiang and his wife were stopped at the border, the Taiwanese government revealed that, when the couple sought approval to invest in a real estate company in 2016, they were rejected on security grounds.

“Their relationship with China’s People’s Liberation Army was extraordinarily close,” Chang Ming-pin, executive secretary of the commission at Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs that reviews foreign investments, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Unpicking Mr Wang’s claims — currently the focus of Taiwanese and Western intelligence agencies— is, according to one security official, difficult and painstaking. Some of them may never be corroborated, others have already been assessed as credible. A former Australian intelligence official told The Age and Herald last week that the US is particularly interested in Mr Xiang’s military networks.

Whatever they finally conclude, though, Mr Wang has provided them plenty of food for thought.

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