How Chinese Spies Are Rising Under Xi Jinping

How Chinese Spies Are Rising Under Xi Jinping

To commemorate the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, which kicked off on October 16, Challenges publishes seven articles symbolizing China’s development and rise since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Here’s the fourth.

On this July 6, 2022, a diverse gathering, a mix of businessmen, spies and diplomats, crowds into Thames House, the imposing London headquarters of MI5 (British domestic intelligence). A stone’s throw from the famous MI6 (Foreign Intelligence Service) headquarters made famous by James Bond, which faces him across the Thames, the site is the setting for an unprecedented speech. Playing complicity and calling each other “my friend,” two of the world’s most powerful spymasters in the world have called on the press to issue an unprecedented warning about what appears to be their new public enemy number one: the Chinese spy. Thin dark glasses, dark suit, forties, Ken McCallum, head of MI5 where he has done a lot of work on Russia, opens up hostilities and declares that “hostile (Chinese) activity is currently taking place on British soil”. Before adding that his agents are “conducting (…) seven times more investigations (on China) today than in 2018”.

Lawyer Chris Wray, head of the FBI since Donald Trump fired James Comey in 2017, is even more scathing at his side. China is “determined to steal your technology (…) and use it to build your business undermine and dominate your market,” he says to the business people available in the room. And makes the point by judging that the Chinese threat is a “complex, persistent and pervasive threat.” As early as October 2020, the FBI chief had sounded the alarm, revealing that his agency “opens a new counterintelligence investigation related to China approximately every ten hours.” It must be said that Uncle Sam has not been spared in recent years. In August, for example, a Senate report revealed that Beijing had waged a decades-long campaign of espionage and influence against the US Federal Reserve. Added to this were several indictments of cyberespionage by the American judiciary, such as that of a Chinese intelligence chief involved in an operation targeting Saffron and General Electric, which was convicted in November 2021.

The “Chinese Spy on the Larigot”

While the summer was also punctuated by the pressure Beijing would have put on Sri Lanka to sail its state-of-the-art spy ship yuan wang 5, France, which is usually more reluctant than London and Washington to denounce Chinese aggression, has also raised its tone. At the July 13 MPs hearing, Defense and National Security Secretary Stéphane Bouillon bluntly announced that the “Chinese are spying tirelessly and are having a great day in terms of enterism, penetration and attempts at conquest.” At the beginning of October, the head of the National Information Systems Security Agency (ANSSI), Guillaume Poupard, traditionally reticent about attributions, pointed the finger at Beijing. He told the Senate that out of 14 major espionage operations against France in 2021 “Nine seemed to correspond to ways of working of Chinese origin.” In July 2021, Guillaume Poupard had also pinned down a group of hackers with ties to the Chinese state – APT31 – whose raids in France were judged by the head of ANSSI to be “much more serious” than the Pegasus affair.


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