Australian Prime Minister, After Registering For A WeChat Account Using Unnamed Chinese Citizen, Finds His Account Sold To Someone Else
from the quite-a-world-we-live-in dept
WeChat is the massively dominant Chinese social media app (plus commerce, plus a lot more), but unlike other apps from China, like TikTok, it has mostly focused on the Chinese market, rather than markets overseas. Nonetheless, it has apparently huge popularity in Australia (which has a large Chinese ex-pat community). As it grew more popular, it’s no surprising that Australian politicians began using the service — even though in order to sign up for an account, you’re supposed to be a Chinese citizen. Still, politicians such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed up for an account raising some concerns domestically — though they were mostly dismissed by Morrision and his allies. This was true even after WeChat took down a post by Morrison that criticized a Chinese official.
Of course, things got a lot more interesting when Morrison’s WeChat account recently… was somehow taken over by a new account called “Australian-Chinese New Life” and locked out Morrison and his staff from using the account. The new account posted:
“Thank you for your continued interest in our WeChat public account. Scott Morrison, the WeChat public account you previously followed, has moved all its operations and functions to this WeChat public account.”
Various politicians in Australia immediately blew up, claiming that this was “foreign election interference” by the Chinese government. However, WeChat owner Tencent responded that there was no government interference or hacking, but rather “a dispute over account ownership.” And that brings us to the somewhat sketchy details of how Morrison was able to get an account in the first place. As mentioned above, you need to be a Chinese citizen to open a WeChat account, but it appears that there are some Chinese companies that will effectively rent out a Chinese citizen’s identity for foreigners to get a WeChat account. And it appears that’s what Morrison did:
For Scott Morrison to open an official WeChat account in 2019, the social media platform needed the account owner to either supply the ID of a Chinese national who would act as the “account operator”, or tie their account to a business registered in China.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) used a Chinese agency to register the account, which was tied to an unknown male Chinese citizen from the southern province of Fujian, according to the ID details logged with WeChat.
If that sounds hellishly sketchy for a Prime Minister of a country to do, you’re not wrong. And now it’s come down to this. According to Tencent:
?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.?
And apparently the “current operator” is just as perplexed as everyone else that it now controls Morrison’s WeChat account, and is in (somewhat reasonable) disbelief that Morrison would use such a sketchy process to sign up for an account:
Huang Aipeng, the legal representative for the Fuzhou software development firm, told Guardian Australia he only learned on Monday that the account belonged to Morrison.
?When I was first told that this account belonged to Morrison, I didn?t believe it at all,? he said on Tuesday. ?How could a big head of state have handed over his WeChat account to a single person to manage??
Huang categorically denied any allegations of foreign interference. ?I?ve had absolutely no contact over here with any kind of government-related body,? he said.
Huang said he bought the account for his company as a formal business transaction in keeping with Wechat?s platform migration rules. He bought it directly from an acquaintance with the surname Ji, who could not be contacted.
The guy claimed he bought the account just because it had a lot of followers, which is just kind of perfect in a way. He also claims that he’s considering just shutting down the account now that he understands whose account it actually was at first.