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Australian Prime Minister's WeChat Shanghaied by Chinese patriots
Politicians rush to blame Beijing, Tencent says the account was transferred from its original registrar and it's probing that shift
Updated Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's WeChat account has been taken over by entities that have rebranded it "Australian Chinese new life" and used the account to offer advice on living in Australia for the nation's Chinese community.
Morrison, leader of the right-of-centre Liberal Party of Australia, has used Tencent-owned WeChat as a campaigning tool to reach Australia's sizable Chinese community – many of whom are concentrated in particular seats and are therefore considered a sought-after voting bloc.
Other members of the government have concluded the takeover of the account must be the work of Chinese authorities. Evidence for that claim, other than Beijing's ability to boss Chinese companies, has not been provided.
But China has little love for Morrison, who led international calls for an inquiry into the origin of SARS-CoV-2. The Middle Kingdom later issued a list of 14 demands with which it expected Australia to comply, among them reversing a ban on Huawei, cessation of accusing China of cyber-attacks, reversing a decision to bar a state government from participating in the Belt and Road initiative, and refraining from further comment on matters such as human rights or the legitimacy of China's territorial claims.
China also imposed tariffs on some Australian goods.
Australia's government has ignored that list, and China has ignored Australia's entreaties to talk about its trade sanctions while occasionally sniping in less-than-diplomatic language.
- China unleashes fearsome new cyber-weapon: A very provocative meme
- US distrust of Huawei linked in part to malicious software update in 2012
- UK, Australia, to build 'network of liberty that will deter cyber attacks before they happen'
- New Zealand spooks say satellite snooping is obsolete – better intel is found elsewhere
News that Morrison's WeChat account has been – ahem – re-purposed will not help matters. Nor will it help him to campaign in an election due by May and at which current polling predicts the incumbents will struggle to retain government.
The Register has asked Tencent, WeChat's owner and operator, if it has any knowledge of how and when the account changed hands. ®
Updated to add at 0730 UTC, January 24
Tencent has been in touch with news that it has found "no evidence of any hacking or third-party intrusion.
"Based on our information, this 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 is committed to upholding the integrity of our platform and the security of all users accounts, and we will continue to look into this matter."
That verbiage suggests the PM might yet regain control of his account. We'll keep an eye on the matter.