Kevin Rudd might wish to reconsider his friendship with Chinese businessman Ian Tang in the face of growing evidence that Tang’s company Beijing AustChina has a rather dubious approach to business ethics.

Despite weeks of publicity, we still aren’t much clearer on precisely what Ian Tang and Beijing AustChina do. The Prime Minister himself has admitted he’s not “really across what Tang does.” AustChina claims to act as a distributor for Australian communications companies in China but, as we will see in a moment, their track record is rather patchy. Its local representation is a $1 company with a house in the Sydney suburb of Warriewood, where the phones only go through to a fax machine.

More seriously, a number of companies identified on Beijing AustChina’s website as “Strategic Partners” have either never heard of AustChina or have severed all ties with them years ago and have no current business relationship with them. Sydney company Integrated Research says it has been a partner with AustChina for 6 years. However, of the remainder of AustChina’s “strategic partners”:

  • Radio Frequency Systems: say they severed ties with AustChina in 2005 for “failing to meet milestones”.
  • Q-Mac: had never heard of Beijing AustChina until this week.
  • Future Fibre Technologies: severed ties with AustChina several years ago.
  • CSIRO: have advised that, while it is not aware of any relationship, it is checking its files to confirm.
  • LongReach: refused to comment, but Crikey’s own efforts have revealed no evidence of any relationship between them.

AustChina appears to have a highly imaginative approach to its business connections. One former customer described them as “MBAs – Master Bullsh*t Artists”. In response to queries about why it is claiming these links, AustChina says that it is “in discussions with a number of local suppliers regarding opportunities to export Australian products to China.”

AustChina will indeed be in discussions with at least one of these firms – it has asked its lawyers to write to Ian Tang to demand that reference to its purported ties be removed.

And then there is the question of AustChina’s and Ian Tang’s links with the Chinese Government. There are suggestions that Tang is closely associated with Beijing. Given that he claims to be a supplier of, inter alia, military communications equipment, it is unlikely he is not in some way linked to the Chinese military.

You don’t have to go too far up the grassy knoll to start wondering if AustChina is a front for other activities.