Canberra cafe Double Drummer serves Aussie spy agency Office of National Intelligence & had China links

James King
The Nightly
6 Min Read
Chinese politician Jin Zengjiang (left), whose wife co-owned a Canberra cafe frequented by some of Australia's top spies and intelligence officials.
Chinese politician Jin Zengjiang (left), whose wife co-owned a Canberra cafe frequented by some of Australia's top spies and intelligence officials. Credit: The Nightly

A Canberra cafe that serves the nation’s top spies, federal police and intelligence officials was co-owned by the spouse of a Chinese politician honoured before Xi Jinping for his work advancing the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions at home and abroad.

An investigation by The Nightly can reveal that Double Drummer — a well-known cafe located next door to Australia’s lead spy agency, the Office of National Intelligence in the heart of Canberra’s power precinct of Barton — was co-owned by a woman whose husband is a senior official in both a Chinese parliament and a united front group.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess warned alongside Five Eyes counterparts in October that “the Chinese government are engaged in the most sustained, sophisticated and scaled theft of intellectual property and expertise in human history.”

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The Cyber and Critical Technology Intelligence Centre, part of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence, is across the footpath from the Double Drummer cafe.

The centre leads Australian national security research and intelligence assessments on critical science and technologies.

Chinese citizen Zhu Cuihua was one of three Chinese citizens who bought the cafe in 2020, which is located on National Circuit surrounded by the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Federal Police, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and foreign spy agency Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

Zhu’s husband is Jin Zengjiang.

In August, he received the “National Outstanding Returned Overseas Chinese and Their Relatives” award in Beijing.

The ceremony was attended by President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Qiang, and four of five other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership committee.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission documents show Zhu, a graduate of the University of Canberra like her husband, bought Double Drummer in November 2020 with another Chinese couple, one of whom is also an Australian citizen.

The documents show Zhu, aged 41, served as a director of Double Drummer until April 2022, almost ten years after Chinese media first credited her husband with united front activity in Australia.

Zhu was its largest shareholder from January 2022, the same month Jin became a Chinese politician, before which she was its second largest.

A current owner of the cafe, who with their spouse bought the cafe with Zhu, declined to comment. Of the two other owners, both of whom commenced during Zhu’s ownership, one declined to comment and the other did not respond.

A former senior executive of a national intelligence community agency, who was a customer at the cafe during Zhu’s tenure, shouted “What?” in shock when The Nightly informed them of the cafe’s former ownership.

Unlike all other public servants, the Office of National Intelligence and other surrounding intelligence agency personnel have their public employment records suppressed.

Double Drummer, right, surrounded by Federal Government offices and located one block from Parliament House.
Double Drummer, right, surrounded by Federal Government offices and located one block from Parliament House. Credit: Supplied

In the case of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, revealing the identity of an employee of that agency carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment.

The cafe was dominated by customers wearing federal government security pass lanyards, a former employee said, who asked not to be identified citing concern for their future employment.

“Like all of them,” they said.

“Flip the scenario and it’ll give you a sense of the gravity of the potential exposure. If we could operate a public cafe in the heart of Beijing’s intelligence precinct as a honeypot, imagine the rich harvest. We’d identify operatives from a host of intelligence agencies — their faces, their names, their friends, their family, the credit cards they use,” the former senior executive of a national intelligence community agency said, who asked not to be identified to discuss sensitive issues publicly.

“And that’s before we even contemplate what intelligence we’d capture through incidental eavesdropping, let alone through electronic surveillance by methods such as collating digital connections to the cafe’s Wi-Fi, tactically placed listening devices, or surveillance cameras linked to facial recognition software and other AI capabilities.”

There is no suggestion that Zhu and Jin or the other owners of Double Drummer engaged in intelligence-gathering activities for the Chinese government.

The All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese ceremony at which Jin Zengjiang was honoured.
The All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese ceremony at which Jin Zengjiang was honoured. Credit: Supplied

There is, however, the perception that Zhu’s part ownership of the cafe gave Jin, a Chinese citizen who is a Chinese politician and an executive in an organisation to which intellectual property transfer is encouraged, proximate access to members of the Australian intelligence community at a time the Five Eyes have been warning of foreign interference and intellectual property transfer by the Chinese government.

Zhu and Jin did not respond to requests for comment.

Jin, 42, the general manager of China-based family business Suzhou Huanyu Real Estate Development Company, graduated from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2006, three years before Zhu graduated with a Master of Tourism Management and the couple married.

Jin has served as vice president of the Anhui Province Overseas Chinese Business Investment Enterprises Association since May 2018, an organisation that according to its website is supervised by the Chinese Communist Party’s provincial United Front Work Department.

Jin Zengjiang
Jin Zengjiang Credit: Supplied

He has been a representative in the Suzhou Municipal People’s Congress since January 2022, a Chinese prefecture-level legislature overseeing a city with a population of eight million people. He was elevated to its presidium, the presiding committee.

The overseas enterprise association of which Jin is vice president is “an important bridge for communication between the government and overseas Chinese businessmen”, “made important contributions to Anhui’s social public welfare and economic and social development.”, has “given full play to the unique advantages of overseas Chinese business organisations” and “handle[s] other matters entrusted by relevant government departments”.

Zhang Ximing, Anhui province’s united front director and a member of its top Chinese Communist Party committee, told the association’s annual meeting in February last year that “one of the characteristics of the overseas Chinese community in Anhui is that there are many returned overseas Chinese scientists and technology innovators and many returned overseas Chinese science and technology enterprises”, a recount by a member company said.

“One by one, key technologies have achieved breakthroughs ‘from 0 to 1’, filling the gaps in Anhui Province and even the country. A batch of returned overseas Chinese science and technology enterprises focus on high-end industries, tackle key problems, and achieve progress from ‘following’ to ‘running side by side’ and even ‘leading’.

“It is hoped that the majority of overseas Chinese businessmen and enterprises will strengthen technological innovation and better contribute to the high-quality development of Anhui, and build a source of scientific and technological innovation”, the recount continued.

The China Overseas Returnees Network credits Jin with united front activity in Australia as early as 2013, stating he “devoted himself” to “actively building bridges” and “helped make contacts” for China’s Suzhou city, which was “seeking to establish intergovernmental relations”.

“The United Front … is an important magic weapon for strengthening the party’s ruling position…”, Xi Jinping said of the model in 2015.

Chinese media and united front groups report Jin has also served as vice president of the Suzhou Overseas Chinese Federation and Suzhou Youth Chamber of Commerce, as a standing committee member of the Suzhou Youth Federation, and as a member of the Suzhou Yongqiao District’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Anhui Federation of Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurs, all united front-linked organisations.

Jin Zengjiang, far right, pictured with Vice Governor of the Anhui Provincial Government Zhou Xian, centre.
Jin Zengjiang, far right, pictured with Vice Governor of the Anhui Provincial Government Zhou Xian, centre. Credit: Supplied

In August, Politburo Standing Committee member Li Xi told Jin’s award ceremony that overseas compatriots should actively respond to the call of the Party.

“The vast majority of overseas Chinese have actively worked to maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao and to promote the reunification of the motherland”, Li said, referring to China’s claim to Taiwan.

The Chinese Communist Party’s All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, responsible for overseeing united front organisations and which hosted the ceremony, has “actively strengthened the ideological and political guidance of the overseas Chinese community,” he said.

Jin was honoured at China’s Great Hall of the People, the same venue at the edge of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing at which Xi Jinping hosted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese three months later in November.

The office of Home Affairs Minister Claire O’Neill deferred to the Office of National Intelligence for comment.

“ONI has no comment”, the national security agency said.

An ASIO spokesperson said: “As a matter of long-standing practice, ASIO does not comment on individuals, investigations, or operations”.

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