Former Chinese military man behind export of tonnes of medical supplies
A former Chinese military officer worked with Chinese Communist Party agencies and a group with links to organised crime to export tonnes of Australian medical supplies to Wuhan at the height of the coronavirus epidemic there.
The former officer, Kuang Yuanping, is now planning to bring medical equipment to Australia given the peak of COVID-19 crisis in China appears to have passed, and export food China. Statements issued by Mr Kuang and his backers suggest he wanted to help Australia's efforts to contain the virus and assist China's soft power and political influence goals in this country through charitable activity.
Sydney-based Kuang Yuanpin, a former Chinese military officer with a shipment of critical medical equipment going to China.
Sydney-based Mr Kuang is a former officer in the People's Liberation Army who runs a number of Chinese Communist Party-backed organisations in Sydney and Melbourne. These organisations include some that are loosely backed by China's soft-power agency, the United Front Work Department, which is charged with building influence for the CCP overseas and countering its critics.
One of the groups, the Hubei Association, was until recently run by former Chinese-Australia organised crime suspect, Tom “Chinatown” Zhou.
As new coronavirus cases in China slow according to official statistics, Beijing is increasingly offering assistance to other countries battling the pandemic. China has offered aid to more than 80 countries and the World Health Organisation.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald can reveal that in February Mr Kuang help coordinate two air lifts of medical supplies from Australia to Wuhan. The consignments included 35,000 sets of protective medical suits, 200,000 pairs of gloves and 10 tonnes of disinfectant. The goods went to hospitals and medical centres in Wuhan and five other cities at the epicentre of the crisis.
“What’s galling is China’s state propaganda arm repeating nonsense … claiming the Australian government is playing politics."
A February 16 memo that Mr Kuang issued via a community platform “calls for overseas Chinese in Australia to take action to contribute money, supplies and your kindness to your home country".
“We collect all medical supplies needed by Wuhan, including: medical equipment, reagents, medicine, protective suits, disinfectant products, N95 masks and so on, and will deliver them to Wuhan freely.”
Another statement issued by Mr Kuang reveals that party officials in Hubei authorised his Australian company, Huaren Group, to urgently supply China with urgent medical supplies including personal protective clothing for medical workers. Such internal approvals would normally take months or longer.
A video posted to WeChat lists Mr Kuang’s key backers or “commanders” in the “Corona Virus Work Group” as two Melbourne men have worked with Mr Zhou, who ran a controversial high-roller business at Crown Casino.
Before Mr Zhou was arrested in Fiji and deported to China in January to face criminal charges, he ran a United Front group in Melbourne, the Hubei Association. For several years, Mr Kuang ran a sister Hubei association from Sydney. Mr Kuang is using both Hubei associations to help co-ordinate his charitable and business activities.
Celebrating a shipment of goods from Australia to China.
The Age and Herald have reported previously the effort by Chinese-Australian companies to source and fly tonnes of medical equipment to Wuhan, but this is the first time an explicit link can be made to Chinese influence activities in Australia. The efforts of Chinese companies to help their compatriots back home may have contributed to shortages of products in Australia, particularly masks, which are concerning medical experts.
Beijing's aid campaign shows medical equipment is now flowing the other way. In the words of a March 19 article in the party controlled People’s Daily, China is positioning itself as a “responsible power” helping the world to combat the spread of COVID-19, with president Xi Jinping ordering "international cooperation in epidemic prevention and control be expanded to reflect the responsibility". China has been keen to deflect claims that COVID-19 originated in Wuhan and criticism of its early handling of the crisis by internal and US critics.
Mr Kuang has since ramped up efforts to donate medical supplies to the Australian government, according to Chinese news reports and WeChat posts. Over the past fortnight, Mr Kuang has been organising means to send Australian milk powder, meat and produce to China and import desperately needed medical equipment into Australia on return flights. WeChat posts show he has been was working with Chinese officials to get approval to charter a flight to bring medical supplies to Australia.
“We sincerely appreciate the effort of the motherland’s Hubei province government and fellow countrymen actively organising medical supply to assist Australia,” said a recent statement issued by a Kuang-linked community group. "The Australia-Hubei Association will act in the first instance to coordinate a chartered plane to purchase 100,000 medical face masks which will be donated to the Australian government and overseas Chinese."
The work of Mr Kuang has multiple aims according to sources aware of his activities and open source documents sighted by The Age and Herald, which include both humanitarian and political considerations. The parties donating goods appear to be well-meaning and their activities are in line with genuine contributions made by thousands of Chinese Australians to combat the fallout of COVID-19 in China and Australia.
But Mr Kuang is also operating to further Beijing’s strategic aims and reputation, including building political influence in Australia. Statements issued by Mr Kuang or his backers to Chinese language media outlets reveal that since February, he has sought to merge several United Front groups to form a mega “alliance” able to draw on "support from the Chinese embassy in Canberra”.
Mr Kuang also appears to be seeking to profit by exporting Australian meat and produce to China. Documents with Australia’s corporate regulator show that on March 12 Mr Kuang registered a new company, Australia Olon Food Services, to capitalise on the demand.
The export of goods in demand due to the virus has sparked concern from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and other ministers. On Sunday night, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg moved to reduce the threshold of scrutiny for a foreign takeover of an Australian company from $1.2 billion to zero, to help prevent Australian firms in distress from being subject of predatory takeover. The new rules apply to all overseas buyers but came after revelations about Chinese companies snapping up Australian medical supplies.
The involvement of Chinese government agencies in directing humanitarian or profit motivated activities in Australia is almost certain to draw scrutiny from Australian security agencies.
China analyst from the Lowy Institute, Richard McGregor, said genuine humanitarian trade should be welcomed in an emergency, but the nature of the Chinese system, in which the ruling party claims authority over all government and non-government organisations as well as overseas Chinese communities, inevitably added a political element to transactions.
Swinburne University China specialist Professor John Fitzgerald urged Australia to welcome donations and support from the Chinese community, but said the Chinese government should not politicise such activity.
“What’s galling is China’s state propaganda arm repeating nonsense on our local Chinese-language radio stations, claiming the Australian government is playing politics while Xi Jinping is out to save the world. That’s really unhelpful for social cohesion in Australia. It has to stop,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
Mr Kuang follows directives from officials of the party-state about what he should export to China and import into Australia. A series of statements posted on Chinese social media accounts show that Mr Kuang is working with a government entity, the Wuhan Emergency Support and Commodity Reserve Group, and his activities have been "fully affirmed by relevant national ministries and commissions, provincial and municipal leaders" and the United Front group the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese.
Mr Kuang served as a PLA officer in northern China and attended a military academy in Wuhan before becoming a businessman involved in real estate, big data and military-civil fusion projects, a 2018 article reveals. Since 2011, he has been a member Wuhan's United Front directed rubber stamp legislature, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
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