WeChat has been accused by Australia of deleting Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s account and transferring his followers to a website claiming to give information for Chinese Australians.
James Paterson, chairman of Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, was the first to confirm the account’s termination on Monday. Morrison’s account on the platform had been “taken over and renamed,” he stated in interviews with Australian media.
Morrison’s account on the site has been hijacked, according to Paterson, who added that Morrison’s account now redirects to one dubbed “Australian Chinese New Life.” Both Paterson and Morrison are Liberal Party members.
WeChat is one of China’s most popular social messaging apps. In 2020, it had about 1.2 billion monthly active users. According to observers, the vast majority of users are from China, but it also has users from other countries and is popular among the Chinese diaspora.
Morrison’s WeChat account, which he used to engage with Chinese Australians, has 76,000 followers.
Morrison’s account has been changed to Australian Chinese New Life, an account tied to a technology firm in China’s Fujian province, according to a WeChat announcement dated January 5.
Morrison’s account was not hacked, according to Tencent (TCEHY), the publicly traded corporation that runs WeChat. However, ownership of the account was questioned.
“The account in question was initially registered by a [Chinese] individual and was later transferred to its current operator, a technology services company — and will be treated in accordance with our platform standards,” a Tencent spokesperson told CNN Business. “Tencent is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of our platform as well as the security of all user accounts, and we will continue to investigate this problem.”
Paterson claimed in a separate interview with Sky News Australia that the government began having trouble posting to Morrison’s account in mid-2021.
“The government has made a direct request to WeChat to restore access,” he added, adding that “the government has received no response.”
Morrison’s account was deactivated, according to Paterson, because of tensions between China and Australia. During a local broadcast on Monday, he hypothesised that the timing might be linked to the prime minister’s discussions with world leaders at last year’s G7 conference “about the perils of becoming overexposed to China and having China’s leverage over you.”
When asked about the account during a normal press conference in Beijing on Monday, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said it was a “problem between Morrison and WeChat,” but declined to elaborate.
Other Western nations have also condemned WeChat for alleged ties to the Chinese government. In 2020, the Trump administration attempted to prohibit the app in the US, claiming that it presented a national security threat because it collected user data that may be accessible by China’s ruling Communist Party. The attempt was thwarted by US courts and never came to fruition.
Tencent noted at the time that the foreign version of WeChat is distinct from the Chinese programme, which is also known as Weixin, and that it utilises data “in strict line with applicable laws and regulations,” according to its website.