The defense department of Australia has warned that “extreme threat” is looming over its naval upgrade worth US $65 billion by “highly active” spies. The veiled statement points to the Chinese consulate in Adelaide which was opened in 2017, around the same time the fleet modernization was announced.
Beijing expanded its consulate which sprawls for 5,600 square meters and has at least four buildings that would be used for “offices and accommodation.” “It hasn’t escaped me that the consulate was stood up in the same year that a significant naval shipbuilding program was announced by the coalition government,” said Senator Rex Patrick, who filed the freedom of information request.
He said the consulate’s size was obviously excessive. “It’s clearly a serious national security issue and the government must do whatever it needs to do to minimize and eliminate this threat,” he added.
The US recently ordered to close down the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas alleging that the Chinese Communist Party was stealing American and European intellectual property.
“We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “And when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs.”
The US Justice Department has also indicted two Chinese nationals for hacking into government and commercial computer systems in America and around the world, including an Australian defense company. “As the indictment shows, the hackers targeted technology companies in countries with high-technology industries, including in Australia,” said US Assistant Attorney-General John C Demers.
The Australian Defence Department hasn’t explicitly named China but national security experts believe the Chinese Government is the main culprit.
As reported by AsiaTimes, Australia is planning to build 54 warships in the next 20 years with most construction work taking place at facilities around the Osborne naval shipyard outside Adelaide.
Additionally, twelve submarines will be built there from 2022-23, and about half of the 21 patrol boats being added for coastal surveillance. local affiliates of foreign manufacturers like BAE Systems (UK), Raytheon (US), Babcock (UK), and Naval Group (France) and several other contractors are based around Osborne are being targetted by the spying agencies.
There are claims that Chinese submarines and vessels used for electronic detection are also being detected with increasing frequency in waters off southwestern Australia.
“These adversaries are highly active in pursuing access to information relating to Australia’s current and future maritime capabilities in order to advance their own interest and undermine Australian capabilities,” the department said in response to a freedom of information request. It further added that the information “may be used to directly, or indirectly, damage Australian interests”.
However, some opposition parties believe that the government is using these spying claims to escape the scrutiny of the naval upgrade, which has been seen accusations of mismanagement, including enormous cost overruns. Experts and security analysts have also expressed doubts over the effectiveness of submarines and their delivery time.