Chinese businessman a political influencer

The Australian media has reported that ASIO has been investigating Liberal Party donor Huifeng “Haha” Liu over foreign interference.

The Australian media has reported that a Melbourne-based Chinese businessman who has aligned himself to Liberal MPs is facing deportation after being assessed by ASIO as a national security risk.

The businessman, Huifeng “Haha” Liu, is a Liberal Party donor and former soldier in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who developed links with several with Liberal Party politicians.

Mr Liu is contesting the deportation order after the Federal Government rejected his application for permanent residency when security concerns were raised.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has also confirmed it is investigating Mr Liu as part of the joint ASIO-led Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce but declined to comment further.

Mr Liu told Australian media he believed ASIO had assessed him as a security risk because he was the president of a popular Australian-Chinese neighbourhood watch organisation which had an agreement to take instructions from the Chinese consulate in Melbourne.

The group, the Australian Emergency Assistance Association Incorporated (AEAAI), acts as a middleman in police incidents and legal cases involving Chinese speaking residents.

The group has promoted itself as a grassroots community platform to its more than 55,000 members from the Chinese diaspora in Australia on the Chinese social media platform WeChat.

According to confidential documents the AEAAI was promised funding from the Chinese consulate and agreed to report back on criminal incidents, emergencies, accidents and “security risks” involving Chinese citizens deemed to require consular assistance.

Gladys Liu is no relation to Mr Liu. Ms Liu helped the 52-year-old connect to with Victoria Police as a constituent. Haha Liu watched from the public gallery in the House of Representatives as Ms Liu delivered her maiden speech in July 2019 as MP for the federal seat of Chisholm in Melbourne’s east and posed for photos with Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar MP.

“I’ve done nothing wrong or against Australian law,” Mr Liu has stated to the Australian media. “The decision to revoke my visa was extremely unfair.”

Mr Liu has lived in Australia since at least 2014.

Sources close to Mr Liu have revealed he has been on ASIO’s radar since at least 2016, when he had one of several meetings with the agency.

The same year, he founded the AEAAI and appeared in a photograph attending the launch of a new Australian association for Chinese PLA veterans.

The visa decision and the ongoing ASIO-AFP investigation raise questions over whether the Liberal Party and some of its MPs developed a mutually beneficial relationship with Mr Liu.

The Liberal Party’s 2015-16 public records show that in the lead-up to the July 2016 election, Mr Liu donated $20,000 to the Victorian division.

In June 2016, he attended a series of pre-election fundraising events headlined by then-foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop and former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott.

The same month, he officially launched the AEAAI and flooded his social media profile on the Chinese platform Weibo with photographs and posts about his encounters with senior Liberals.

In a statement provided to the ABC, MP Gladys Liu said her only dealings with Mr Liu were in his capacity as president of the AEAAI.

“Outside of this we have no relationship,” her statement said. “Allegations made against Mr Liu are concerning and should be thoroughly investigated.”

She said she had never received “financial support” from Mr Liu and was unaware of the allegations against him until contacted by the ABC.

A spokesperson for Mr Sukkar said that although the minister and Mr Liu had attended a number of the same “local events”, this had not happened “in the past two- to three-year period”.

“Mr Sukkar has never had a private meeting or conversation with Mr Liu, who is known locally not to speak English,” the spokesperson said in a statement given to the ABC.

Mr Liu also donated $1,125 to the NSW Liberals for tickets to a Premier in Conversation event featuring Gladys Berejiklian in November 2017. It is not known if Mr Liu made any other donations to the party.

The director of the Liberal Party’s Victoria division, Sam McQuestin, said Mr Liu’s “financial contribution … was disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission in accordance with our obligations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act”.

Under federal electoral laws, donations under $14,300 do not have to be declared.

Mr Liu was also feted by the Victorian Labor Government, when Premier Daniel Andrews handed him an award at the 2018 retirement banquet for the outgoing parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs, Hong Lim.

“MPs from all political parties are invited to numerous community and multi-cultural events where they are often asked to be photographed with attendees,” a spokesperson for Mr Andrews said.

In November, Mr Liu stood down as president of the AEAAI after a fractious dispute with some of the association’s leadership team, who accused him of concealing his interactions with ASIO.

In the four-and-a-half years since it was launched, the AEAAI has built its profile as a 24/7 community service where volunteers can be reached on WeChat, over the phone, on a new mobile app and in person.

Chinese citizens and Chinese Australians have been willingly giving the association’s volunteers sensitive and personal details about their lives.

The group, which is registered as a non-profit with charitable purposes, assists Chinese-speaking residents to cooperate with Australian police, judiciary and emergency services in criminal incidents, emergencies, accidents, disasters and disease outbreaks.

The AEAAI has gained coverage in the mainstream media recently with stories about its army of volunteers responding to missing persons cases, robberies, and delivering supplies to residents in home quarantine during the COVID outbreak.

These instances of Chinese influences in politics and society in Australia should be taken seriously and approached with caution.

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