China accused of hijacking Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison's WeChat account

The Australian Prime Minister is still yet to retrieve access to his WeChat account.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

A Liberal member of parliament has accused the Chinese government of foreign interference after Prime Minister Scott Morrison's account on WeChat was hijacked.

"It is a matter of record that the platform has stopped the Prime Minister's access, while Anthony Albanese's account is still active featuring posts criticising the government," Liberal representative Gladys Liu said.

"In an election year especially, this sort of interference in our political processes is unacceptable, and this matter should be taken extremely seriously by all Australian politicians."

As part of the accusations against the Chinese government, Liu said she would boycott using her official and personal WeChat accounts until an explanation was provided by the platform about the incident.

Various Coalition members have also backed Liu's accusations and boycott, with Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security chair and Liberal Senator James Paterson calling for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to follow suit in boycotting WeChat.

Stuart Robert, the Minister responsible for digital transformation, told The Today Show on Monday morning that the Prime Minister's office was seeking to contact the Chinese government about the account hijacking.

"It is odd, and of course, the Prime Minister's office is seeking to connect through to them to work out and get it resolved," Robert said.  

First reported by NewsCorp Australia, the WeChat account was reportedly renamed and Morrison faced accessibility problems months ago, with the Prime Minister now unable to access the account at all.

According to Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Fergus Ryan, Morrison's account is registered to a Chinese national based in Fujian as WeChat's policies at the time required for accounts to either be linked to the ID of a Chinese national or business registered in China. 

On Monday evening, a Tencent spokesperson confirmed to ZDNet that the account was originally registered by a PRC individual but it is now handled by a technology services company.    

"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," the Tencent spokesperson said.

"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."

According to ABC News, the registered owner of Morrison's WeChat account had sold it to Fuzhou 985 Information Technology in November last year. The Chinese company reportedly bought the social media account as it had around 75,000 followers and had no knowledge that the account was under Morrison's name.    

In China, WeChat has faced growing regulation, having been put on notice last year for collecting more user data than deemed necessary when offering services. 

Tencent, the company running WeChat, last year also implemented further restrictions for how much minors could play its flagship game Honour of Kings as part of efforts to appease government concerns. In that restriction, Honour of Kings gamers under the age of 18 are limited to playing time of one hour on regular days and two hours on public holidays.

Updated at 8:30am AEST, 25 January 2022: added comments from Tencent spokesperson.

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