Australia PM’s WeChat account vanishes

WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging application from Tencent has been accused of blocking access to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s account. The block has prompted accusations of Chinese interference from senior members of the Australian government.

The account which was launched in February 2019 appears to have been replaced with one titled “Australian Chinese new life.”

With more than a billion users globally, WeChat is the overwhelmingly dominant messaging and social media platform in China, where Western services such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter are blocked.

According to reports, the prime minister’s office has made multiple fruitless requests to WeChat to regain access to the account. There was no immediate comment from Morrison but a senator from his ruling center-right Liberal Party accused Beijing of being behind the change.

“What the Chinese government has done by shutting down the prime minister’s account is effectively foreign interference in our democracy,” James Paterson told 2GB radio on Monday.

Paterson called on Australian politicians to boycott WeChat in response.

(Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

Bloomberg reported that Gladys Liu, who became Australia’s first Chinese-Australian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives in 2019, said she would no longer use her personal or professional WeChat accounts “until the platform explains itself.”

“This sort of interference in our political processes is unacceptable, and this matter should be taken extremely seriously by all Australian politicians,” she said in a statement.

According to the account’s about page, the “Australian Chinese new life” name was registered on October 28, 2021. But the account has posts dating back to February 1, 2019, including Morrison’s first, which reads: “I’m very happy to open my official WeChat account”.

AFP has contacted WeChat’s parent company Tencent for comment.

Both the Liberals and the main opposition Labor Party set up official WeChat accounts for their leaders through outsourced agencies, posting in Mandarin in an attempt to reach out to China’s large diaspora.

Morrison first launched his WeChat account to communicate with Australia’s sizable Chinese-Australian community ahead of elections in 2019. That year, Morrison was asked by reporters whether there was a risk his account could be censored by the Chinese Communist Party.

“We haven’t experienced any such censorship,” he said.

In December 2020, WeChat removed a post from Morrison that defended Australia’s investigation into allegations of war crimes perpetrated by Australian soldiers.

The post also criticized Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who had tweeted a fake image of an Australian soldier holding a knife.

The last post on the “Australian Chinese new life” account is from July 9, 2021. The Daily Telegraph reported Morrison has been locked out of his account since then.

All of the posts on the “Australian Chinese new life” account relate to Australian government announcements or messages from Morrison.

Interestingly, opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s WeChat account remains active.

The relationship between China and Australia continues to be on the rocks in recent times primarily due to issues related to supply chain and trade, 5G as well as technologies being used by both countries