Melbourne’s Chinese expatriate becomes first person charged with violating ‘anti-foreign intervention law’

A 65-year-old Melbourne, Australia man appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday afternoon (November 5) accused of breaching the Foreign Intervention Act for his alleged links to Chinese agencies exerting influence overseas. The man is thus the first Australian to be charged with breaching the law.

Duong Di Sanh, 65, is president of the Federation of Oversea and Cambodian Old Chinese Groups in Oceania and a board member of the Australian-Chinese History Museum in Melbourne, where he is a prominent and leading figure in the Asian-Chinese community in Melbourne’s southeast.

Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney confirmed that this is the first time anyone has been charged with this offence in Australia since the passing of this National Security Act in 2018.

It is understood that Yeoh has now been granted bail and is due to reappear in court and appear for a preliminary hearing on March 11, 2021.

Australia passed the “Anti-Foreign Intervention Act” in 2018, which makes it an offence to interfere with the democratic process or to provide information to overseas governments. While Canberra has stated that the law is not directed at any country, Beijing has been strongly opposed to it.

According to Australian media reports, the Oceania Federation of Vietnamese-Cambodian Chinese groups is linked to China’s United Front Work Department, and the Australian-based branch of the organization participated in a March 2016 march organized in Melbourne to oppose the UNCLOS tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea.

Observers believe that Yang Yisheng’s case will have international repercussions, after other countries have been eagerly awaiting how Australian authorities will prosecute suspects for violating the country’s foreign interference law passed in 2018.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFI), led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), conducted a year-long investigation into Yang Yisheng, and police raided several of his properties in the Melbourne area on October 16.

A neighbor, who asked not to be named, reportedly said several Australian police officers and police cars, at least 12 of them with equipment, were parked in front of Yang Yisheng’s home at around 7 a.m. that morning.

According to the Australian Federal Police, Yang Yisheng may have links to foreign intelligence agencies, but did not disclose which country’s intelligence agency.

Deputy Commissioner McCartney said: “The CFI Working Group has taken precautions to disrupt this individual’s activities long ago. Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest and strikes at the heart of our democracy. It is corrupt and deceptive.”

Yang Yisheng’s conviction carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison under Australia’s “anti-foreign interference law”. The police department released a statement saying the investigation into the case is still ongoing.

Mark Wang, the current director of the Australian-Chinese History Museum and a close friend of Yang Yisheng’s, said he was shocked by the charges against him. But he also said that neither he nor the museum knew anything about Yang’s personal affairs.

In June, Yang and Australia’s acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Alan Tudge, donated $37,000 to the Royal Melbourne Hospital during the neo-coronavirus epidemic.

Relations between Australia and China have continued to deteriorate over the past two years.In 2018, Australia became the first country to publicly ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network, citing national security concerns. Since then, there have been a number of incidents that have sparked conflict, and in 2020, diplomatic tensions between China and Australia continued to worsen after Australia’s hardline stance on an international investigation into the source and spread of the coronavirus angered Beijing.