The mysterious Chinese diplomat who ‘hijacked’ a ministerial press conference to lavish praise on Beijing is a former top cyber spy for Beijing.
Long Zhou used to work in a secretive cyber cell inside the Chinese Communist Party, helping it wage war against western governments and pump out propaganda.
He is now China’s Victorian consul general, and inexplicably gatecrashed a joint press conference between Health Minister Greg Hunt and businessman Mr Forrest on Wednesday.
The billionaire mining magnate, nicknamed ‘Twiggy’, was announcing his foundation’s securing of 10 million coronavirus testing kits, but is accused of ‘ambushing’ Mr Hunt with the Chinese official.
He even invited Mr Zhou to speak, who seized the opportunity to praise China for being ‘open, transparent and responsible’ with officials, including the World Health Organisation.
Victoria and Tasmania Consul-General of China Long Zhou (pictured, centre) is seen departing a press conference where he spoke of the relationship between China and Australia
Mr Zhou is a former staffer at country’s secretive network of state-sponsored cyber spying, which has sparked protests around the world, The Australian reported.
Before moving to Australia, he was co-ordinator of cyber affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, helping Bejing’s global digital attacks.
His controversial former job is understood to have further soured relations between Mr Forrest and the government, who are furious about the unannounced guest.
Mr Hunt is understood to have assumed the Chinese diplomat had helped Mr Forrest obtain the testing kits as one of his business contacts.
‘Twiggy will find the door to Canberra is closed,’ a senior source told the newspaper, after he helped the Chinese diplomat ambush Mr Hunt.
China has been accused of covering up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak when it began, not sharing key information with foreign governments which could have saved lives.
Mr Forrest (pictured at the April 29 conference) invited the Chinese diplomat to speak – but said he did so ‘with the full authority’ of the health minister
Another joint press conference, scheduled at a children’s cancer centre, has since been cancelled.
It is believed the government feared questions about China and the gatecrashing oficials would overshadow proceedings.
‘The announcement was issued by media release so as not to distract focus from the importance of this lifesaving program for children,’ Mr Hunt’s spokesman said
The press conference was going to announce $67 million worth of investment in the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
Forrest was taken to task on the issue on Thursday on Today.
‘You didn’t tell the PM’s office – you didn’t tell the health minister’s officer – it’s almost like you’ve performed an act of treason,’ Today host Karl Stefanovic told Mr Forrest.
Mr Forrest (pictured with wife Nicola on Today on Thursday) called the backlash over the unexpected appearance a ‘complete non-story’
But Mr Forrest said backlash over the unexpected appearance was a ‘complete non-story’.
‘China has really stepped up so I brought the Chinese consulate along because they’ve helped Australia,’ he said.
‘Mums and dads and boys and girls are now able to get tested across our country.
‘I brought the consulate along when we broke the back of the PPE [personal protective equipment] crisis in Perth so I brought him along again in Melbourne.’
There are increasing tensions between China and Australia after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Despite this, Forrest he would continue working with China, which has threatened Australia’s economy for pushing for a coronavirus inquiry.
China is accused of covering up the severity of the epidemic after it started in a live exotic animal market in Wuhan (pictured, a bat in a wet market in Indonesia)
Vendors wearing face masks as they offer prawns for sale at a market in Wuhan (pictured on April 15) where reports of the virus first emerged in December
‘Yeah, and I see pandemics coming out of Europe mate, I can see them coming out of Africa,’ he told Perth radio station 6PR.
‘This one came out of China. You might even cop one coming out of Australia one day.
‘The pandemic starts somewhere. It is how you react to them and I really say to any leader mucking around blaming people, taking up people’s precious airtime throwing blame, throwing criticism and not getting on with the job of fixing it, well, you are defining yourself as a pretty crap leader.’
He insisted that his securing of testing kits showed ‘I’m the most Australian person I know.’
A similarly unexpected visit was made by the Chinese Consul Madam Dong to an event in Perth when Mr Forrest secured medical supplies for Western Australia.
Mr Forrest earlier denied claims Mr Zhou’s appearance represented a hijacking and said the health minister was aware the Consul-General would be in attendance.
‘I invited the Consul-General to speak, with the full authority of the Minister for Health, and he gave such a strong speech about nations working together, ‘ he told news.com.au.
It came as broadcaster Alan Jones joined former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in slamming the businessman for inviting Mr Zhou on his morning radio show.
‘Andrew Forrest, you better go and hide and not appear for a while,’ he said on Thursday morning – while calling the invitation ‘appalling’.
Before the Melbourne press conference, Mr Forrest had inked a deal worth $320million to bring the additional 10 million coronavirus testing kits to Australia, increasing the country’s capability 20-fold.
Mr Forrest earlier denied claims Mr Zhou’s appearance represented a hijacking and said the health minister (pictured at the announcement) was aware the Consul-General would be there
Mr Zhou took the opportunity on the podium to praise Beijing’s handling of the crisis.
‘The Chinese government has released information related to COVID-19 in open, transparent and a responsible manner,’ he said.
‘We have worked closely with the WHO and other countries. Including sharing experiences … and providing assistance within our capacity.
‘China very much appreciates and is thankful to the compassion, support and sympathy of the Australian people.’
The deadly respiratory virus has infected more than three million people globally, including 6,746 Australians. So far, 212,000 people have died worldwide.
Mr Zhou said during a speech that COVID-19 could well be ‘the biggest crisis faced by mankind since world war two,’ before urging people from every nation to work together.
‘Solidarity is the only way to overcome this public health challenge. All countries should work together as one,’ he said.
AMBASSADOR’S ECONOMIC THREAT TO AUSTRALIA
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Ambassador Cheng slammed Australia’s push for a global inquiry as ‘political’ and warned Chinese consumers could boycott the country.
Answering a question about whether China could boycott Australian iron ore or gas, Mr Cheng instead focused on China’s contribution to Australia’s agriculture, tourism and education sectors.
Mr Cheng said: ‘I think if the mood is going from bad to worse, people would think why we should go to such a country while it’s not so friendly to China.
‘The tourists may have second thoughts. Maybe the parents of the students would also think whether this place, which they find is not so friendly, even hostile, is the best place to send their kids to.
‘So it’s up to the public, the people to decide. And also, maybe the ordinary people will think why they should drink Australian wine or eat Australian beef.’