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How China uses extensive spying operations to assert its global dominance: From India to Afghanistan, the US and beyond

China’s unconventional espionage activities are central to Chinese authoritarian leader Xi Jinping’s plan to dominate the world order. All countries carry out espionage activities to defend their interests, but China’s activities reveal that it is bent on ratcheting up its spy war.

For years now, China has been stealthily carrying out espionage activities against rival countries and nations that it deems are consequential to its national security and global supremacy. A host of countries, including the United States, India, Australia and several other key nations have been among the list of countries against whom the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had been actively involved in carrying out spying activities.

However, China’s attempt to prise information out of other countries by commissioning spy operations is not a recent development. China had been fairly successful in hiding its nefarious activities up until the advent of the coronavirus outbreak, which was first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, presumably from the wet markets that operated in the city. On occasions when it stood exposed, Beijing used coercion and persuasion to sweep under the rug the ugly realities of its extensive espionage activities.

But the pandemic shattered the ruse that China has been employing to conceal its sordid spying pursuits. Since its outbreak, coronavirus has rapidly spread across the globe, practically leaving no country untouched from its disastrous consequences. The relentless march of the coronavirus resulted in the grave loss of human lives, along with the severe effect on the economies of the countries it ravaged.

A groundswell of resentment developed against China for bequeathing the world with an uncontrollable contagion. The lack of transparency and China’s reticence in providing timely information about the infection only stoked the anger further. CCP’s strident criticism of nations who sought accountability from China for COVID-19 also served to amplify indignation against China.

For nations who were already aware of Beijing’s deceitful manoeuvres but were under duress to speak against it, the pandemic acted as a trigger to raise their voices against China and instilled them with confidence to employ resources to curb Beijing’s illicit activities. They were no longer obligated to kowtow to Beijing and its whims and fancies.

Several nations employed resources to unearth the unlawful and immoral activities carried out by the Chinese Communist Party that had so far gone unnoticed and were consciously ignored. As agencies across the world directed their energies towards China, the steadfast campaign brought to light the extent to which the CCP would go to protect its interests.

One particular aspect that the campaign shed light on was the CCP’s penchant to carry out spying operations against nations and individuals that are perceived to be acting against its interests. China has been steadily scaling up its espionage activities across the world, making it an intrinsic characteristic of the country’s foreign policy. Espionage activities are commissioned against friends and foes, often to determine if their interests align with that of China, and to secure access to confidential information that can be later used to one’s advantage.

According to a report published last year, the scale of the spy rings operated by China across the globe is unprecedented and is much larger than that of the cold war era. It also claimed that the Chinese spy rings include people from all professions—journalists, policymakers, political leaders, researches and many others.

China’s unconventional espionage activities are central to Chinese authoritarian leader Xi Jinping’s plan to dominate the world order. All countries carry out espionage activities to defend their interests, but China’s activities reveal that it is bent on ratcheting up its spy war. China is vigorously recruiting like never before, snooping, stealing secrets and research information on a scale that has never been witnessed before.

Indian journalist arrested for spying for China

An Indian journalist, namely Rajeev Sharma was arrested by a special cell of Delhi police on September 14 under the Official Secrets Act for spying for China. His Twitter account was restricted following his arrest. Sharma had reportedly worked with The Tribune, Free Press Journal, Sakaal, etc. and for left-wing publications like The Quint, DailyO, etc. He also ran a YouTube channel. Sharma was also reported to have written for the Global Times which is the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China for many years.

Sharma was accused of passing sensitive information to Chinese intelligence. One Chinese lady and her Nepalese associate also arrested for paying him large amounts of money routed through shell companies. Chinese intelligence tasked the journalist for conveying sensitive information in lieu of large amounts of money. A large number of mobile phones, laptops, and other incriminating/sensitive material were also recovered.

Chinese espionage activities in Afghanistan

China’s snooping efforts are not just limited to nations such as Australia, India and the United States, but central Asian countries such as Afghanistan is also in the throes of Beijing’s espionage activities. In December 2020, Afghanistan arrested 10 Chinese citizens on the charges of espionage and operating a terror cell in the capital city of Kabul. Reports stated that detainees were believed to be linked to China’s spy agency, Ministry of State Security. 

The alleged spies were reportedly gathering information about Al-Qaeda and many in Kabul security establishment believed that the operatives were working to ensnare astern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighters in Afghanistan, an internationally recognised terrorist group that China accuses of fomenting separatism in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

A paper published on The Jamestown foundation attributed China’s spying activities in Afghanistan to its anxieties over the threats of terrorism, ideology and weapons flowing across the border into Xinjiang, the restive Chinese province and house to millions of Uyghur Muslim minorities. The CCP is accused of presiding over the persecution of Uyghur minorities, incarcerating them into detention centres, “re-educating” them, and enforcing them into forced labour, among other things.

UK expels Chinese spies who posed as journalists

In a report that was published just recently, the United Kingdom is said to have expelled three Chinese spies who had posed as journalists last year. The British Intelligence Agency MI5 concluded that the three worked for China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) but had been using the cover of working for the country’s press agencies.

The report said all three had claimed to work for three different Chinese media agencies, adding that they had all arrived in the country over the past 12 months.

The report of the expulsion of the three Chinese spies came after Ofcom on Thursday rescinded the licence of the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN to operate in the UK. The regulator claimed that the company did not have day-to-day control over the channel which was against the rules. The decision was, however, not linked to the three Chinese spies.

America calls Houston Chinese embassy a “hub of spying”

With the United States pulling out from Afghanistan, China sensed an opportunity to assume greater importance in the region by pitchforking itself in the talks between Kabul and the Taliban. China believes that by being a stakeholder in the peace agreement in Afghanistan, it would be in a better position to control the Islamic extremist forces that are invariably helping the Uyghurs to stage an insurrection against the Chinese regime.

China is also accused of infiltrating American Institutes and organisations through its spy network. In July 2020, as the coronavirus was galloping the United States, the Trump administration blamed Chinese citizens of stealing scientific research and told the country’s diplomats in Texas to leave. The former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had then called the Houston Chinese consulate as a ‘hub of espionage activities”.

Chinese Communist Party’s data leak shows how China infiltrated corporates, foreign consulates, including Indian, for spying

Shocking revelations have also come forth with the massive leak of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) records in December 2020. The CCP through a recruitment agency carried out a well-coordinated infiltration by getting its members employed in senior, specialist and advisory positions in consulates of countries such as India, UK, USA and Australia.

According to a report by The Australian, CCP infiltrated the consulates in Shanghai through a government-run recruitment agency. Through a well-coordinated effort, advisers were placed in western countries for over a decade.

Whistleblowers have extracted a list of 1.95 million CCP members from a Shanghai server. The list contains details such as names, the positions they held, birthdate and ethnicity. As per the investigation done by The Australian, at least 10 consulates in Shanghai employed CCP members as senior political and government affairs specialists, clerks, economic advisers and executive assistants.

Foreign experts believe that this could be a state-sponsored ‘spying ring’ wherein CCP members are employed in consulates, some for as many as 16 years. The leaked database also revealed that some of the CCP members were employed by corporates such as Boeing, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Boeing, the American company, has defence contracts worth billions while Pfizer and AstraZeneca are leading pharmaceuticals which are developing the Chinese coronavirus vaccines. CCP members are also recruited at various Western universities as well.

China running a spy network inside top universities in US

A report published last month revealed the intimate relationship China shares with the US universities. Addition to its ‘Thousand Talents Plan’, China has successfully established a spy ring at top US universities, including Harvard and other Boston universities.

Reportedly, the Chinese military sends its spies disguised as students, who are specifically trained to steal intellectual property and research documents from the university labs and send it back to China.

The US security agencies became aware of such a Chinese spy network in US universities after the arrest of Lieber. Along with Lieber, two Chinese spies disguised as researchers were also charged as agents of a foreign government. The two Chinese spies had lied about their research work, wh used their access to smuggle research samples out of the country.

One spy was a lieutenant in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which she did not disclose when she obtained a visa to enter the United States. She is accused of passing information on research conducted at Boston University to China’s government. Another spy – Zheng was arrested at Boston’s Logan International Airport as he tried to leave the United States by smuggling 21 vials containing sensitive biological samples.

Australian MP being investigated for being a member of global Chinese spy ring

An Australian MP, Shaoquette Moselmane, is currently being investigated on charges of being a member of a global Chinese spy ring. The legislator was extremely pro-China and vocal about his inclination towards China. He had in June 2020 even applauded China for its response to tame the spread of the novel coronavirus, even though Beijing was accused of bungling up the initial response to COVID-19.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the country’s national security agency had raided the Labor Party leader and New South Wales upper house MP Shaoquett Moselmane for his alleged links with the Chinese government. He was subsequently suspended from the party for his alleged links to China.

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