Chinese spies keep an eye on Europe – Executive Digest

Brest is a rainy, Atlantic industrial port, home to the French Navy and its underwater nuclear deterrent. A significant number of marriages between Chinese students and naval base personnel have taken place in recent years.

‘Honeypots’, in which an agent seeks to romantically engage his target, is one of the first spy thrillers. However, they are a sign of the way China’s spying activities have expanded into Europe, culminating in a series of public arrests last week.

Three German nationals have been arrested on suspicion of trying to sell military technology to China. German police have detained a staff member of a far-right German member of the European Parliament, accused of working undercover for China. At the same time, London accused two men of allegedly spying for Beijing, one of whom had access to the British Parliament.

These incidents are more typical of China’s espionage efforts in Europe: Beijing’s “sophisticated seeding” operations in particular, according to the Financial Times, have sought to patiently cultivate political influence and shape European attitudes toward China. This has become increasingly important to Beijing as European policymakers view China and its strategic relationship with Russia as a security threat rather than simply a source of economic opportunity.

“The Chinese are doing a lot of espionage and Western intelligence is getting better at detecting it,” explained Nigel Inkster, a former director of Britain’s secret intelligence service, also known as MI6. “Unlike the US, China’s intelligence agencies have so far been less active in Europe. But when European attitudes start to harden towards China, we can expect more,” he said.

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China’s foreign ministry last week dismissed the latest spying allegations, which emerged shortly after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz returned from a three-day visit to China, and labeled them “exaggerated”. With President Xi Jinping set to visit Europe next month, Beijing is more sensitive than usual about allegations of espionage.

“The intention is very obvious, it humiliates and stifles China and harms the environment of China-EU cooperation,” a ministry spokesperson assured.

But in an appeal to the country’s intelligence agencies, State Security Minister Chen Yixin said last Monday that China must launch a “powerful attack”. Chen said its agencies should undertake “special counter-intelligence operations” to “eliminate traitors”.

According to Western intelligence agencies and security analysts, Chinese espionage operations, particularly those led by its civilian spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, are real. More worryingly, there are signs that they may cross paths with Russian networks that have infiltrated Europe’s political elite.

“China and Russia have common goals that they promote jointly while serving their own interests. Both seek to undermine the position of the West,” Finnish defense and intelligence warned late last year.

Established in 1983, China’s MSS is a civilian secret police service that the US describes as a combination of the FBI and the CIA. As an agency responsible for intelligence and political security against the Communist regime, its reach extends throughout Chinese society.

According to Western officials, unlike its centralized Western counterparts, the MSS bases its intelligence operations in competing provincial centers. The Shanghai office generally directs US intelligence, while Zhejiang tends to focus on Europe.

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“China and Russia play the same authoritarian playbook: sow doubts about democracy and gain influence among any groups that challenge existing political divisions, through slow, subtle action,” said Dan Lomas, assistant professor of international relations at the university. Nottingham, United Kingdom.

“The goal is to create contrast,” he added. “Russia and China did not create the problems; They are created by democracy. Rather, the approach is to demystify these issues by fostering support among extremist groups.

The scale of China’s espionage activities in Europe may be even greater: in 2019, the EU’s foreign service reportedly warned that there were 250 known Chinese spies in Brussels, compared to 200 Russian agents.

Most recently, the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee warned late last year that the size of China’s state intelligence apparatus, “the largest in the world,” could number hundreds of thousands of agents. “China’s human intelligence collection is rich,” he said.

By contrast, Britain’s MI6 and its domestic agency, M15, have a combined workforce of around 9,000, according to recent figures.

In addition, Beijing conducts extensive cyber activities that cross borders. FBI Director Christopher Wray warned last January that China could outnumber its own agency’s cyber personnel by “at least 50 to one” in hackers.

China’s economic power and geopolitical weight make European policies more nuanced toward Beijing than toward Russia. “There’s always been a debate about whether China represents a security threat or an economic opportunity,” Lomas said. This debate will continue as long as China remains an economic power that respects the rules of the international game.

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According to ‘China Negan’ author Adam Nie, far-right groups in Europe can be a fertile ground for Chinese infiltration: while many European groups do not work for foreign spies, some may voluntarily cooperate with Moscow and Beijing. “They want to follow some aspects of the Russian and Chinese model,” he guaranteed. “There is a tendency to agree with them on an increasingly wide range of topics.”

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