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Double Drummer: Former owner’s China links show we’re failing in spy fight, says security expert

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Revelations that the wife of a Chinese politician owned a cafe near some of Australia's top intelligence agencies showed the country was losing the spy war, according to a security expert.
Revelations that the wife of a Chinese politician owned a cafe near some of Australia's top intelligence agencies showed the country was losing the spy war, according to a security expert. Credit: The Nightly

Revelations that a Canberra cafe serving the nation’s top spies was co-owned by a woman married to a Chinese politician honoured before Xi Jinping for his work advancing the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions show Australia is not equipped to fight China’s growing spy threat, according to a security expert.

The Nightly’s report on the previous ownership of the Double Drummer, a popular cafe next to the Office of National Intelligence in Barton, has sparked concern among security figures.

It came just two weeks after Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess revealed an unnamed Australian politician had been recruited as a spy by an unnamed foreign country, widely reported to be China.

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Zui Cuihua, whose husband Jin Zengjiang received the “National Outstanding Returned Overseas Chinese and Their Relatives” award in Beijing in August, was one of three Chinese nationals who purchased the cafe in 2020.

The cafe is frequented by federal police, politicians and government workers from nearby security agencies, many wearing staff ID.

Michael Shoebridge, director of security and defence think tank Strategic Analysis Australia, called for policy change.

“Our policies around these things were suitable for a previous era and we are now in a much more intense strategic era,” he said.

“Australia can’t listen to warnings from top intelligence chiefs — like ASIO boss Mike Burgess — about the problem of foreign espionage and interference in Australia and not take action to tighten security against motivated spy agencies,” said Mr Shoebridge, a former deputy director of Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation.

“China’s spy agencies are the best resourced and motivated to gather intelligence on Australia, so the least we should expect is awareness of potential vulnerabilities.”

Saying he was not surprised to learn that Double Drummer’s former co-owner was married to a senior Chinese parliamentary figure, Mr Shoebridge said Australia needed to overhaul its vetting process for businesses in highly secure areas such as Barton.

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

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 encouraged to pursue intellectual property transfer, proximate access to members of the Australian intelligence community at a time the Five Eyes have been warning of intellectual property transfer and foreign interference by the Chinese government.

“Ownership structures for venues frequented by Australian intelligence officials need to be understood at the very least,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“Where there are close connections to individuals working for bodies like China’s United Front Work Department, then this risk needs to be known and managed.

“It’s hard to see how venues in the heart of Canberra’s intelligence and policy precinct are not at least vetted on ownership connections.”

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.

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