Canberra refused to disclose that Beijing was behind a February cyberattack on its national parliament and three largest political parties, a few months before the May general election, Reuters reported Sunday, citing five unnamed people with direct knowledge of the matter.
The finding was originally made in March by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) – the nation’s cyber intelligence agency.
The agency’s report, which also included opinions from the Department of Foreign Affairs, reportedly recommended keeping the discovery secret to avoid hurting trade relations with China.
According to two sources, the attack gave the perpetrators access to policy papers on topics such as tax and foreign policy, as well as private correspondence between lawmakers, their staff and regular citizens.
News of the attack was shared with at least two Australian allies; the US and the UK, the source told Reuters. Both countries have declined to comment on the issue.
When contacted by Reuters, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied Beijing’s involvement in hacking attacks, saying that without proof, all allegations are “creating rumours” and “smearing others.”
“We would like to stress that China is also a victim of internet attacks,” the Ministry suggested in a statement to Reuters.
The office of the Australian prime minister and the ASD have also declined to comment.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and the biggest buyer of Australian iron ore, coal and agricultural goods, according to CNBC. Beijing consumes over one-third of Australia’s total exports and sends more than a million tourists and students there each year.