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China's espionage tactics: Unraveling the web of spies, hackers, and informants in the West

This article explores China's diverse espionage methods, from cyber warfare to political influence, shedding light on its intelligence-gathering efforts in the West.

China espionage tactics: Unraveling the web of spies, hackers, and informants in the West snt
First Published Sep 11, 2023, 1:08 PM IST

Recent events involving espionage activities linked to China have raised concerns about the nation's intelligence-gathering methods. From cyber warfare to tech sector fears and industrial espionage, China has employed various tactics to gather intelligence on Western nations. This article delves into the different ways China has been accused of spying on the West in recent years.

Cyber Warfare

China has been identified as a significant cyber espionage threat to the United States, characterized by its active and persistent efforts to infiltrate government and private-sector digital systems. In 2021, it was revealed that China had employed "contract hackers" to breach Microsoft email systems, providing state security agents access to sensitive information. Reports have also cited Chinese cyberattacks on US energy departments, utility companies, telecommunications firms, and universities.

Tech Sector Concerns 

The technology sector has not been immune to suspicions of Chinese espionage, with concerns that state-linked firms could be obligated to share intelligence with the government. Notably, Huawei faced charges in 2019 for conspiring to steal US trade secrets, leading to its exclusion from US government systems and concerns over private-sector equipment. Similar apprehensions surround TikTok, developed by ByteDance, with some Western lawmakers advocating for an outright ban due to data security concerns.

Industrial and Military Espionage

China has reportedly leaned on its citizens abroad to engage in industrial and military espionage, often involving the theft of sensitive technology. Cases like that of Ji Chaoqun, sentenced to eight years in a US prison for sharing recruitment target information with Chinese intelligence, highlight these efforts. Other cases involve individuals sentenced for stealing technology from aerospace firms, such as Xu Yanjun, who played a key role in a state-backed scheme targeting US and French companies. Wei Sun, a Chinese national and naturalized US citizen, was also jailed for bringing sensitive information to China.

Spying on Politicians

Chinese operatives have allegedly cultivated relationships with political, social, and business elites in Western countries, including Britain and the United States. An arrested British individual reportedly had contacts with UK Conservative Party MPs while working as a parliamentary researcher. Reports in the US claimed that a Chinese student developed ties with American politicians using campaign financing, friendships, and even sexual relationships to target rising politicians.

'Police Stations' 

Chinese operatives have employed tactics such as offering insider knowledge about the Communist Party's inner workings and access to top leaders to attract high-profile Western targets. The goal has been to mislead world leaders about China's ambitions and promote the idea of peaceful and democratic rise. Additionally, China has put pressure on overseas Chinese communities and media organizations to support its policies on Taiwan while curbing criticism of its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

China's espionage activities in the West have encompassed a range of tactics, from cyber warfare and industrial espionage to cultivating relationships with politicians and creating "police stations" worldwide. As concerns grow over these activities, nations are taking measures to safeguard their security and counter potential threats posed by Chinese intelligence operations.

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