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Chinese Student Suspected in Australia Industrial Spy Probe

  • Phil Mercer

Australia is investigating a suspected case of industrial espionage at the country's top scientific organization as a Chinese man is suspected of accessing data at a nanotechnology laboratory. The case comes as Australia is embroiled in disputes over spying with East Timor and Indonesia.

The case revolves around the unauthorized use of computers at Australia’s government-funded scientific body, the CSIRO, and is being investigated by the nation’s intelligence agencies. They are trying to find out if a Chinese student sent sensitive information from a highly sensitive nanotechnology facility in the southern city of Melbourne to a foreign power. No arrests have yet been made.

The case may further test Canberra’s relations with Beijing following disagreements over China’s new air defense zone in disputed waters. Last week, Australia’s foreign minister called in China's ambassador to Canberra to ask for an explanation.

Australia is also fending off allegations that it secretly recorded government ministers in East Timor a decade ago to gain an advantage during negotiations over oil and gas royalties.

East Timor will go before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the Netherlands Thursday to challenge the validity of a treaty struck with Australia in 2006. The government in Dili wants the agreement to be annulled because of the alleged espionage.

Bernard Colleary, a lawyer representing East Timor in its spying case against Canberra, claims Australian security agents have raided his law practice.

“As I understand it, agents of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization - ASIO - executed a search warrant on my law practice and spent some hours there seizing all manner of documents and other records on the basis that there was a national security issue,” said Colleary.

The Australian government insists that the raid had nothing to do with the espionage case at The Hague, stressing that it was undertaken for reasons of national security. However, Colleary firmly rejects that assertion.

“This can only relate to the proceedings against Australia over the bugging of the Timor Leste cabinet offices during the negotiations for a petroleum and gas treaty in 2004… This is a further step in the actions by Australia to shore up its illegally procured treaty,” said Colleary.

Last month, Indonesia suspended military cooperation with Australia over reports that Canberra had spied on its officials.

Indonesia also suspended joint efforts with Australia to combat people smuggling after revelations that Canberra monitored the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and some senior ministers.


A letter from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the Indonesian leader has not been enough to end the controversy. Now, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is travelling to Jakarta to hold talks with her Indonesian counterpart.
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