Press conference hijacker was ‘cyber spy’
The Chinese official who hijacked a press conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt this week was previously one of China's "top cyber spies".
Long Zhou, who is now the country's consul-general in Victoria, made a bizarre appearance at Wednesday's nationally televised media conference at the invitation of mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest.
Mr Forrest did not tell Mr Hunt that Mr Long would be speaking until the cameras were already on them.
The consul-general then used the platform to praise China's response to the coronavirus and insist it was "doing everything possible to help Australia".
This morning The Australian reported that Mr Long once served as "co-ordinator of cyber affairs" at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, where he "put a positive spin on China's global digital incursions".
China has repeatedly sparked diplomatic tensions around the world with its state-sponsored cyber spying, including in Australia, where intelligence officials concluded it was behind a cyber attack on the federal parliament in March last year.
During his time in the cyber affairs role, Mr Long was part of a push for other nations to support China's idea of "cyber sovereignty", which would give every country the right to govern the internet however it wanted without criticism or interference from overseas.
That plan was widely seen as an effort to strengthen China's internet censorship regime, which already blocks a number of websites, including Facebook and many foreign news outlets.
In 2017, Mr Long launched a paper outlining China's stance on the issue.
"No country should pursue cyber hegemony, interfere in other countries' internal affairs or engage in, condone or support cyber activities that undermine other countries' national security," the document read.
Fielding questions on it, Mr Long said, "there is no absolute freedom in this world". He also shot down accusations that China had carried out cyber attacks on other countries.
"Unlike some other people, we have not described ourselves as a victim every day and finger-pointed at other countries and other people every day," he said.
News.com.au revealed on Wednesday that Mr Long had hijacked Mr Hunt's media conference at Mr Forrest's invitation, allowing China to directly defend its conduct on the pandemic.
"The Chinese Government has released information related to the COVID-19 in open, transparent and responsible manner and we have worked closely with WHO (World Health Organisation) and other countries, including shared experiences in epidemic prevention and control and providing assistance within our capacity," he said.
"China very much appreciates and thankful to the compassion, support and sympathy of the Australian people to towards the Chinese people in our fight against the virus and vice versa. We are also doing everything possible to help Australia.
"And this project is another testimony of the friendship and the co-operation between our two countries and the two peoples.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the virus knows no ideology, border or race, and in face of the pandemic the testings of all countries are closely interwoven where we're all in this together.
"Views have been expressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest crisis faced by mankind since World War II.
"If that is the case, we have no choice but to work together to make the world a safer, more harmonious and a better world."
Hours earlier, China had labelled Australia a "trouble maker", accusing the nation of "panda bashing" and running an "all-out crusade" against it over the Australian Government's support for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
The ambush sparked fury among some Liberal MPs, even as senior ministers tried to frame it as an "olive branch" designed to de-escalate rising tensions between China and Australia.
Mr Hunt reacted by cancelling another joint press conference with Mr Forrest, which had been scheduled for later that day.
And the revelation of Mr Long's former job has "compounded Mr Forrest's offence in the eyes of the government," The Australian said.
"Twiggy will find the door to Canberra is closed," one government source told the newspaper.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also spoke on Wednesday, and was asked about the "panda-bashing" accusation. He stood by his support for an investigation into the virus's origins.
"Australia will, of course, continue to pursue what is a very reasonable and sensible course of action,'' Mr Morrison said.
"This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world. It has shut down the global economy. The implications and impacts of this are extraordinary.
"It would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again. I don't think this is a remarkable suggestion."
Mr Forrest, meanwhile, dodged questions on the issue.
"The relationship I see between the Australian people and the Chinese people is really one of a common heart,'' Mr Forrest said.
"My priority is to see the pandemic come to an end, so I'll be putting everything I can personally and as the foundation and as my businesses to remove the fear of this pandemic from the Australian people as quickly as possible."
Originally published as Press conference hijacker was 'cyber spy'