A Chinese fishing tycoon recently blacklisted by the United States for human rights abuses has been found to be the financier and “permanent honorary chairman” of a China-Australia economic and trade group questioned over its links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Zhuo Xinrong, also known as Zhuo Longxiong, was a benefactor of the Sydney-based Australia China Economics Trade and Culture Association (ACETCA), holding senior positions in the organisation for over eight years, an investigation by The Australian revealed.
Zhuo’s alleged illegal business operations and ties to the CCP have been the target of a wide-ranging U.S. investigation in recent years.
As the chairman and majority shareholder of Pingtan Marine Enterprises, which was sanctioned by the United States for illegal fishing and human rights abuses in December 2022, Zhuo had his U.S. assets frozen at the time. His company was subsequently delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Close Relationship with CCP’s Influence Arm
Zhuo has been affiliated with the ACETCA, one of the most influential Chinese organizations in Australia, since at least 2014.
In 2019, he hosted and sponsored an event for the association in Pingtan County, Fujian Province.
In a February 2023 parliamentary review into the effectiveness of Australia’s Foreign Intelligence Transparency Scheme, ACETCA was named as a likely successor to the organisation previously seen as the CCP’s main infiltration body in Sydney, the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC).
Zhuo Xinrong, Chairman and CEO of Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd. was interviewed by the press. (PRNewsFoto/Pingtan Marine Enterprise)
In January, ACPPRC was listed as a foreign government-related entity by Australia’s federal Attorney-General’s office, but ACETCA was no where to be found on the registry.
While the group’s financial operations are tightly controlled, its lavish activities have attracted the attention of the Australian government.
In November 2022, ACETCA hosted a lavish banquet at the Star Casino in Sydney to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and China, at which Xiao Qian, the Chinese ambassador to Australia, addressed the audience.
Alex Joske, a China expert who worked for Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the ACPPRC was “very clearly in the past operated at the direction of the United Front Work Department or its officials.”
The United Front is an official CCP body designed to build support and accumulate influence abroad for the CCP’s political agenda, which Joske warned was also used “as cover for more concerning influence operations by agencies such as the Ministry of State Security.”
“Many of the individuals there really shifted to operating through another organisation called the Australia-China Economics, Trade and Culture Association, which is still very active and essentially has much of the same membership as this organisation,” Joske told The Australian.
Author Alex Joske is the youngest-ever analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and is known for well-documented investigations into the Chinese communist party. (Hardie Grant Publishing)
ACETCA declined to comment over the issue.
The group’s activities are funded by the honorary chairmen of its board, including Zhuo and other wealthy Fujian businessmen, who deny links to the CCP.
However, a quick search through Baidu, the Chinese Google, and local media reports shows that Zhuo is a member of at least two CCP bodies—a member of the Fujian Provincial Political Consultative Conference and vice chairman of the Fujian Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese.
Foreign Influence Law Overhaul is Urgent, Says Opposition
James Paterson, the opposition’s home affairs spokesman, said Zhuo’s links with ACETCA highlighted urgent reform of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.
“We must reform legislation to make enforcement more straightforward and the Attorney-General’s Department should put more resources into the team with a new commitment to ensuring compliance,” he said.
The Attorney-General’s department has advised the federal government to establish a “tiered system,” focusing the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme on opaque links with high-risk governments such as China, and called for Canberra to be given more enforcement powers.