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Australia claims that the account of its Prime Minister has been deactivated on WeChat

China's social media platform WeChat has been accused of deactivating Prime Minister Scott Morrison's account and redirecting his followers to a website purporting to be dedicated to Chinese Australians.

The account was deleted, according to James Paterson, chairman of Australia's Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, who confirmed the deletion for the first time on Monday. The Australian media reported that Morrison's Instagram account had been "taken over and rebranded," according to Morrison himself in interviews.

His Instagram account has been hacked, Paterson told radio station 4BC on Monday, adding that Morrison's account has been redirected to one called "Australian Chinese New Life," which is a parody of the Australian Chinese. Paterson and Morrison are both members of the Liberal Democratic Party.

WeChat is one of the most widely used social messaging applications in China. According to predictions, it will have approximately 1.2 billion monthly active users by 2020. According to analysts, the vast majority of users are located in China, but the service also has users in other countries and is popular among Chinese immigrants living abroad.

He maintained a WeChat account with 76,000 followers, which he used to communicate with Chinese Australians living in his home country.

In a WeChat notice posted on January 5, Morrison's account stated that "all business and functions" of Morrison's account had been transferred to Australian Chinese New Life, a WeChat account associated with a technology firm in the Chinese province of Fujian.

There was no evidence that Morrison's account had been hacked, according to Tencent (TCEHY), the publicly traded company that owns WeChat, and the account's ownership was being contested, the company said.

A Tencent media representative told CNN Business that the account in question was created by a [Chinese] individual and later transferred to its current operator, a technology services company. "The account in question will be handled in accordance with our platform rules," the representative said. "Tencent is committed to maintaining the integrity of the platform as well as the security of all user accounts, and we will continue to investigate this matter," the company said.

Another interview with Sky News Australia revealed that Paterson had previously stated that the government was experiencing difficulties posting to Morrison's account in the middle of 2021.

In his statement, he stated that "the government has made a direct appeal to WeChat to request that access be restored," but that "the government has not received a response."

Paterson speculated that the deactivation of Morrison's account could be related to the current tensions between China and Australia. In a local interview on Monday, he speculated that the timing of the announcement could be related to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's discussions with world leaders at last year's G7 summit "about the dangers of overexposure to China and the leverage that China has over you."

The account was raised during the regular Beijing press conference on Monday, and when asked about it, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry described it as a "issue between Morrison and WeChat."

"The allegation of Chinese interference is a baseless denigration and smear," said Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese government. Foreign interference is something that we never do, and it is something that we have no interest in doing."

The Chinese social media platform WeChat has come under fire from other Western governments in the past for alleged ties to the Chinese government. Attempts to ban the app in the United States were made in 2020 by the Trump administration, which claimed that it was collecting user data that could be accessed by China's ruling Communist Party was a threat to national security. This attempt was thwarted by the courts in the United States, and it never materialized.

Tencent stressed at the time that the international version of WeChat is distinct from the Chinese version of the app, which is known as Weixin, and that Tencent uses data "strictly in accordance with applicable laws and regulations." Tencent has since clarified that it uses data "strictly in accordance with applicable laws and regulations."

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