State-run tabloid Global Times has attracted ridicule after it shared a photo of “spy tools” it claimed were seized from Australian agents.

A report on Sunday – which came during heightened tensions between the two states – said that Canberra was waging an espionage offensive against China.

Photo: Global Times screenshot.

Citing an anonymous source within Chinese law enforcement, it said that, in 2018, Australia was using spies to “gather intelligence and recruit assets, instigating defection among Chinese nationals, spying on Chinese students and organizations in Australia, feeding fake news to media to hype up the ‘China espionage theory’ and even in [the] early years attempting to install wiretaps in the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.”

Among the items seized were USB flash drives, a notebook containing addresses in China, gloves, a metro map of Shanghai, piles of Chinese renminbi and US dollars, and a Geonaute compass. HKFP found that the navigation device currently retails at HK$74 at the Decathlon sportswear store.

A ‘time warp’

The images attracted amusement on Twitter with some calling the tools “nostalgic,” akin to a “time warp” and comparable to an Indiana Jones movie.

“All the intrigue of a Cold War thriller – complete with cutting edge spy tools from the 1950s!” said ABC correspondent Andrew Greene.

“If you’re an Australian in China you might want to be thinking about your exit plans around about now,” tweeted Hong Kong-based writer and lawyer Antony Dapiran.

However, tech DIY YouTuber Naomi Wu said there was strong evidence of spies operating in China: “Sorry, I know loads of people who come to Shenzhen to get their hardware built. That much cash and a compass is not at all unusual. If he was *not* in possession of a phone that would be odd- but let’s not forget it’s technically illegal for foreigners to use GPS anyway.”

When asked about the revelations on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the report, according to the ABC: “I wouldn’t be relying on Chinese state media for your sources for questions.”

Australia angered Beijing after it led a campaign for an international independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, Beijing enacted trade barriers on Australian goods amid boycott threats and claims of Sinophobia.


Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.