An Australian defence think tank has rubbished Chinese claims that it is the only organisation suggesting China is behind cyber attacks on Australia.
Yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a foreign government was responsible for increasing cyber attacks on Australian governments and institutions, but did not name the country he believed was responsible.
On Friday evening China’s foreign ministry denied the communist country was to blame, and said the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank was the only organisation pointing to China.
“We’ve pointed out many times, this institute has long been receiving funding from US arms companies, and the attacks coming from the institute are completely baseless”, said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian.
On Saturday ASPI’s executive director Peter Jennings described the Chinese claim as “laughable nonsense”.
“It really doesn’t stand up to much in the way of serious scrutiny,” he said.
“Yes indeed we do get a small proportion of our funding from companies Reich that which I am very proud of. I think they play an enormously important part in Australian security.”
Mr Jennings said ASPI’s recent research on China’s use of Uighur prisoners as forced labour and the country’s United Work Front department, responsible for pushing Chinese propaganda around the world, had made Chinese leaders “extremely” uncomfortable.
He said that may have been why ASPI was singled out this time, and said he believed there had been “a significant number of new [cyber] attacks which have not yet been frankly — and may never be publicly — reported”.
“On the one hand, what we have over a period of years are very consistent Chinese interests in hacking our Parliament, which they did in 2011, the Bureau of Meteorology in 2016, the Australian National University in 2018.
“They are just the ones which found their way into the public realm.
“Beyond that, China is acting to infiltrate Parliament, political parties, government departments and businesses all the time.
“What is new, and I think what led to the Government’s press release yesterday, is that there is now a much higher intensity of that Chinese effort, which has come about mostly since the COVID virus.
“I think it’s just become so substantial, so overwhelming, that the government felt it necessary to go out yesterday to say what it did and to warn Australian businesses, in particular, that you need to get your cyber security up to standard if you are not to become subject to these attacks.”
ASPI clearly lists its sponsors, which include defence industry organisations such as Lockheed Martin, Thales and MBDA Missile Systems, on its website.
Mr Jennings said the defence industry played “an enormously important part in Australian security”.
“If you don’t support the Australian defence industry, effectively what you are doing is wanting the Australian Defence Force to be disarmed,” he said.