Chinese diplomat accused of spying operation in US used to work in Australia
A Chinese diplomat accused of using fake identification documents in the United States was until last year the second-most-senior figure inside China’s embassy in Canberra, where he met regularly with Australian politicians.
- The Chinese Consul-General in the US city of Houston, Cai Wei, used to be a senior diplomat in Australia
- The Chinese consulate in Houston has been ordered to close over “subversive behaviour”
- In Australia, Cai Wei met with several senior politicians
Cai Wei, the Chinese Consul-General in the city of Houston, is refusing orders by the Trump administration to close the diplomatic compound which is suspected of running sophisticated espionage activities.
Between 2014 and 2019, the career diplomat served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Chinese embassy in Australia, and had previously worked in other posts including the five-eyes intelligence partner country Canada.
In 2018, the ABC revealed Cai Wei used a dinner gathering with Labor MPs in Canberra to strongly deny the Chinese Communist Party was trying to control foreign students studying in Australia.
The US State Department has accused the Houston consulate of engaging in “subversive behaviour” and says Cai Wei and two other diplomats used fake identification when escorting Chinese travellers through Houston’s international airport.
According to the New York Times, investigations into the Houston consulate have included examining attempts to illegally transfer medical research and other sensitive information from institutions in the area.
It has also been accused of plans to persuade more than 50 researchers, professors and academics in the area to turn over tightly held research or information to Chinese institutions, and of coercing Chinese citizens in the United States, whom the Chinese Government has deemed fugitives, to return to their homeland.
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said “it’s always possible” his administration would close more Chinese missions in the United States.
In response to the US’s demand, China has ordered the US to close its consulate in the city of Chengdu.
Earlier this week, firefighters in Houston were reportedly called to the Chinese consulate because papers were being burned, after the United States had given consular workers three days to shut down the office.
In a statement, a US State Department spokesperson said the move was made “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”.
“The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behaviour.”
On Wednesday, Republican senator Marco Rubio, a member of the US Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, tweeted that the office is the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States”.
A spokesperson for the Australian Government has declined to comment on Cai Wei’s time in Australia following this week’s revelations in the United States.