Australia's Scott Morrison Sees WeChat Account Transferred to Chinese Tech Firm

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison lost his account on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform, after its owner sold the account to a Chinese technology company.

The account, which had 76,000 followers, posted about the prime minister's policies in Mandarin to keep the Chinese community in Australia informed, Reutersreported.

WeChat's parent company, Tencent, told the Associated Press that Morrison's account was registered with a Chinese citizen to comply with Chinese regulations, then transferred to its new owner. It said there was "no evidence of any hacking or third-party intrusion," instead likely being a "dispute over account ownership."

The identity of the Chinese citizen who owned the account is not known. The Reuters report described the person as a "Chinese male national living in Fuzhou."

Earlier this month, Chinese company Fuzhou 985 Technology took control of the account, renaming it "Australia China New Life" this month. The account is meant to promote Chinese life in Australia, according to Reuters.

An employee at the technology company, who was identified only by his last name of Huang, told Reuters he had not been aware that the account belonged to Morrison. He said the company had been looking for an account aimed at the Chinese community in Australia and decided to buy Morrison's account because it had a large following. He did not disclose how much the company paid for the account.

Two anonymous sources told Reuters the agency in charge of the prime minister's social media lost access to the WeChat account in July, then emailed WeChat about it on January 10 to request the access be restored. Tencent has not yet replied.

With Australian parliamentary elections scheduled for May, many of Morrison's supporters are concerned that his WeChat account has been removed while opponent Anthony Albanese's account remains active.

Gladys Liu, a representative for Morrison's Liberal Party, said in a statement that Albanese's account "is still active featuring posts criticizing the government," ZDNetreported.

"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," Liu said.

According to ZDNet, Liu said she would boycott WeChat until the company explained the incident. Others, like Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security chair and Liberal Senator James Paterson called on Albanese to also boycott it.

Paterson said it was concerning that 1.2 million Chinese-Australians still had access to Albanese's criticisms of Morrison's government, but not the government's updates, and accused the Chinese Communist Party of purposely censoring Morrison, AP reported.

"What the Chinese government has done by shutting down an Australian account is foreign interference of Australian democracy in an election year," Paterson said in the AP report.

Scott Morrison, Australia, prime minister
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's WeChat account was sold to a Chinese technology company without his knowledge. Above, Morrison speaks during a press conference on October 15, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images