Details of citizens from Pacific island nations harvested by Chinese technology firm

Source: 1News

People across the Pacific Islands, including some who don't even have a presence on the internet, are among those whose personal information has been targeted and linked to China's military and intelligence networks.

Six years ago, 1 NEWS revealed how dozens of diplomatic and ordinary passports were illegally issued to Chinese nationals, with one couple receiving 22 between them. 

Grant O'Fee, once Tonga's police commissioner, led a major investigation into the illegal innocent.

Now retired, O'Fee isn't on the list of China's Tongan targets - but two family members are, including one who has never been to Tonga.

"I can't understand for a minute why he would be there, he lives in North America [and] to my knowledge [hasn't] been to any South Pacific nation," he told 1 NEWS.

"It doesn't worry me but it's certainly worrying for my family. They are not used to that sort of thing."

1 NEWS can reveal how many people's details have been harvested from each Pacific nation by Chinese tech firm Zhenhua Data.

In total, 804 individuals are listed, many from bigger countries like Fiji and Papua New Guinea. However even tiny islands like Niue have also been targeted.

But it's who's in the database that's raising concern.

Colin Tukuitonga, associate Pacific dean at the University of Auckland, says there are some families with several politicians who aren't on the list, but their nieces, nephews and other relatives are.

"The networks and intelligence on the ground, even in various small islands, is very sophisticated," he says.

"You have to know that so and so is connected to [someone]."

All New Zealand realm countries are included.

Even isolated Tokelau, which only has 1600 residents and no air service, has six people listed. 

"I don't think it's random," Chinese politics expert Anne-Marie Brady says.

"You don't spend the time and energy to put people on the list. There is a purpose and a reason for it."

She says it's all about the relationships between people.

"Where you are not going to scrape a lot of information out of the internet, from Tokelau for example, on individual people, it's all about the relationships," Brady says. 

"It's all about who's who. Who's important, who's related to who. If you wanted to potentially co-opt them, persuade them of a particular policy."

Fiji's database consists of big businessmen, senior military and several criminals and many people linked to key figures.

Prime Minister Voreque Bainimarama's nephew is on it, and it's a pattern repeated throughout the Pacific.

University of Canterbury Pacific studies director Steven Ratuva says it's going to change the political dynamics in a significant way.

"As leaders begin to realise that family members and close friends are being watched as part of the list as well," he says.

"So the way they will approach China will be quite different now, and China too will quickly have to respond to that."

China's influence has been growing in the Pacific, but clear questions now emerging as to what their interests are.