China monitors Australia-based Twitter accounts linked to Islamic 'terrorism'

Former foreign minister Bob Carr delivering a speech on the social impact of the internet at sideline event of 4th World Internet Conference in Wuhzen China. Photo: Sanghee Liu

DECEMBER 5 2017 - 12:32PM

Wuzhen: Chinese terrorism authorities are monitoring social media accounts in Australia that they say are linked to Islamic "terrorism".

Researchers have been tracking and analysing the Twitter accounts of what they call "East Turkistan Islamic" terrorists.

Australia appeared with 34 such Twitter accounts on a global map of hotspots shown at the World Internet Conference in China by anti-terrorism official Mei Jianming.

Mei said the Twitter study showed "terrorist" supporters were "collaborating with other anti-Chinese forces" online.

An image of the map showing Twitter accounts followed in China. Photo: Fairfax

A second global chart named three Australian Uyghur community associations. 

The study showed the Twitter accounts promoted support for Xinjiang independence through the use of "twisted facts and polluted language".

The accounts also spoke poorly of the Belt and Road Initiative, he said, and "bad things about China's national strategy in Xinjiang". 

Mei is the Anti-terrorism chief expert at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's international judicial exchange cooperation training base.

The official confirmation that Australian twitter accounts are being monitored by Chinese security officials comes as the issue of China's influence has come centre-stage in Canberra.

La Trobe University's associate professor James Leibold told Fairfax Media the monitoring of the Australian twitter accounts "doesn't surprise me at all".

Leibold, an expert in China's policies on Xinjiang, an autonomous region in China's far west, said some Uyghurs in Australia were "now afraid to contact their relatives back in Xinjiang for fear that it might invite unwelcome interferences from security officials".

Xinjiang has seen a heavy handed crackdown on Islamic religious activities - including a ban on children entering mosques - after a series of terrorist attacks in China a decade ago.

China says it is concerned about Uyghurs who have travelled overseas to fight with Islamic State in Syria returning.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang are subjected to comprehensive surveillance, Leibold said.

"There has been a recent requirement that all residents in [Xinjiang] install a surveillance app, called "Cleannet Bodyguard", on their smart phones.

Local police are carrying out spot checks to make sure the app has been installed and those who refuse to comply are subject to ten days of detention," associate professor Leibold said.

"The app is meant to "automatically detect terrorist and illegal religious videos, images, e-books and electronic documents," and alert authorities so the content can be deleted.

Anti-terrorism chief expert Mei said the official Xinhua news agency was China's primary "counter-terrorism response" but it didn't have enough capacity.

He said China needed to set up intelligence networks.

The conference was earlier told by the president of the People's Public Security University of China, Cao Shiquan, that China needed to harness big data and artificial intelligence "so we can detect the slightest sign of terrorists".

Cao complained China didn't have enough high-tech talent working in counter-terrorism.