WeChat account owner set to cancel PM’s account

Singapore: The owner of Scott Morrison’s WeChat says it is highly likely he will cancel the Australian Prime Minister’s account after being caught in an ownership dispute between the Australian government and Chinese social media giant Tencent.

The Prime Minister’s account, which was set up by a third party in China in 2019, was taken over in July last year and rebranded as “Australian Chinese new life”. The Prime Minister’s Office has attempted to regain control of the account for months but because it was set up by another individual in China, commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office, it does not have ownership rights.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lost access to his WeChat account.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen/supplied

Huang Aiping, who bought the account from another user known only as Ji in October last year said he did not know it was the Prime Minister’s account when he purchased it. The account, which has not posted on WeChat since it was taken over, is a collection of press releases by Morrison and updates on COVID-19.

Huang, whose business Fuzhou 985 Information Technology Co is linked through its website to Chinese betting agency, Boyu Sports, said he thought the account was good value for money to reach a large number of WeChat users in Australia.

“Our main goal was to provide some useful information for the Chinese community in Australia,” he said. “We are now highly likely to cancel this account or switch it to overseas Chinese in other regions, such as the United States, and try to avoid Australia as much as possible in the future, due to the current circumstances because the account used to belong to the Australian Prime Minister.”

Tencent, the $US20 billion company that owns WeChat. Credit:Bloomberg

Huang would not say how much he purchased the Prime Minister’s account for but said it was a legitimate business transaction between two individuals.

“The media reported that this account belonged to Australia’s Prime Minister, but when I approached the account, the ownership of this account belonged to an individual from Fujian province,” he said.

“So, I only recognise this individual and I do not admit that this account belonged to the Australian Prime Minister.”

Liberal MPs including Gladys Liu and James Paterson accused the Chinese government and Tencent of political interference over the affair on Monday.

“This is pretty clearly and transparently an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to censor the Australian Prime Minister and prevent him from campaigning to the Chinese Australian community,” Paterson said.

In a statement, Tencent, which owns WeChat, rejected those claims and said based on its information, the situation appeared to be a dispute over account ownership.

“The account in question was originally registered by a [People’s Republic of China] individual and was subsequently transferred to its current operator, a technology services company — and it will be handled in accordance with our platform rules,” a spokesman said.

“Tencent is committed to upholding the integrity of our platform and the security of all users accounts, and we will continue to look into this matter.”

Huang said he was waiting on advice from Tencent. “I’m afraid to publicise anything since this incident because I’m still waiting for the next step,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out if Tencent will ever move this account to Australian Prime Minister, but I doubt it.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has been frustrated by what it sees as a lack of communication from Tencent over the matter after it sent an appeals letter to Tencent chairman and chief executive Ma Huateng on January 10.

The Prime Minister’s Office has so far declined to identify the agency and individual it originally commissioned to set up the account in China.

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