Multidimensional competition: China's national security authorities disclose 'new areas' in theft of state secrets, espionage targeting China
Published: Apr 14, 2024 07:01 AM
espionage activities

Espionage activities

Editor's Note:

April 15, 2024 marks the ninth National Security Education Day. Global Times reporters observed that the cases disclosed around this year's National Security Education Day involve a broader scope and are more targeted compared to previous years, with methods also becoming more covert. 

Beyond traditional areas, emerging fields related to national economy and people's livelihoods, future development, energy, food, and meteorology have also become key targets for foreign spy agencies. 

Some security experts told the Global Times that the competition among major powers has unfolded across multiple dimensions. Counter-espionage and safeguarding of national security are not only the responsibilities of national security agencies but also the duty of the general public. Citizens need to continuously learn legal knowledge, enhance their awareness of security, and collectively build a safety net to protect national interests.

From food to energy: targeting key areas

"Grains are the lifeline of the people and a treasure of the nation." Food security is crucial to the national economy and people's livelihoods and is an important component of national security. However, in recent years, foreign spy agencies have continuously intensified their infiltration into China's food sector, blatantly stealing core scientific research intelligence, and significantly harming the rice seed industry's core competitiveness and food security.

The Global Times learned that in response to this prominent threat, national security agencies took the initiative to crack down on a series of espionage cases from 2022 to 2023. They legally investigated and reviewed nearly a hundred individuals involved, dealt with 11 key enterprises, and held related personnel criminally responsible.

A man surnamed Zhu, born in 1964, and formerly the general manager of a national agricultural science and technology company, was found by national security agencies to have established a "cooperative" relationship with foreign spy agencies. To gain personal economic benefits, Zhu unconditionally accepted requests from these agencies. Under the guise of "cooperative breeding," he illegally sold five types of parent rice seeds to them, receiving payments well above the normal selling price.

Zhu repeatedly told his associates that selling seeds abroad was illegal and could lead to imprisonment so it must be kept secret, indicating he was fully aware of the nature of his actions and had clear malicious intent.

To further expand his "business," Zhu founded an agricultural technology company and began selling high-quality parent rice seeds abroad in large quantities. In January 2024, the Hefei Intermediate People's Court in East China's Anhui Province sentenced Zhu to one year and six months in prison for "providing intelligence to foreign entities illegally."

Furthermore, national security agencies also administered administrative penalties to the other 17 individuals involved and conducted thorough investigations into the enterprises involved. They further found out that some domestic seed industry companies had been illegally selling various high-quality seed sources abroad for a long time, effectively eliminating major security risks in China's food sector.

With the global energy transition, key minerals have become a new field of strategic competition among major global powers. Rare-earth elements, known as "industrial vitamins," play an irreplaceable role in many key areas, and foreign forces have intensified efforts to pry into China's rare earth industry. 

In March 2023, national security agencies cracked a case where a foreign non-ferrous metal company illegally collected and stole national secrets from China's rare earth sector, taking compulsory measures against individuals surnamed Ye and surnamed Cheng in line with the law.

A woman surnamed Ye, born in 1977 of Chinese nationality, was a member of the Shanghai subsidiary of a foreign non-ferrous metal company. A man surnamed Cheng, born in 1975, was formerly the deputy general manager of a domestic rare earth company. 

Investigations found that Ye met Cheng through business cooperation in 2017. Foreign employees of her company instructed Ye to offer money to Cheng in exchange for information such as rare earth storage details and directive plans. Knowing it was forbidden to disclose such information, Cheng still sent details of China's rare earth storage for seeking personal gain, including types, quantities, and prices, to Ye, receiving a large amount of compensation.

The state secrets protection department identified seven items of confidential-level state secrets in the information Cheng provided abroad. The facts of the case were clear, and the evidence was solid, with the suspects admitting to their crimes. 

In November 2023, the Nanchang Intermediate People's Court in East China's Jiangxi Province sentenced Ye to 11 years in prison for the crime of being bought off by oversea forces and illegally providing state secrets, deprived her of political rights for two years, and confiscated personal property worth 500,000 yuan ($69,09).

Cheng was sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison for illegally providing state secrets and bribery. He was also deprived of political rights for 2 years, fined 100,000 yuan and had his personal property worth 900,000 yuan confiscated.

Li Wei, a researcher and security expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that the competition in the international community is becoming increasingly fierce. 

The competition among major powers is no longer limited to traditional military and diplomatic fields but is unfolding across multiple dimensions. Food security is the foundation of national security, and rare earths and other key minerals are strategic resources for developing new quality productive forces. It is essential to thoroughly combat the theft by foreign intelligence agencies and resolutely defend national security interests, the expert said. 

Stealing meteorological data, threatening military security 

The Government Flying Service of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region holds an open day on April 13, 2024 in Hong Kong to promote the National Security Education Day.Photo: VCG

The Government Flying Service of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region holds an open day on April 13, 2024 in Hong Kong to promote the National Security Education Day. Photo: VCG

Notably, foreign institutions have illegally intensified their collection of China's meteorological data. Since 2023, national security agencies, in cooperation with meteorological and state secrets protection departments, have carried out nationwide special management of foreign-related meteorological detection, investigating more than ten foreign meteorological equipment agents, inspecting over 3,000 foreign-related meteorological stations, and identifying hundreds of illegal foreign-related meteorological detection sites transmitting meteorological data abroad in real time. These sites are widely distributed across more than 20 provinces in the country, posing risks to national security.

Sources revealed that some of these illegal foreign-related meteorological detection sites receive direct funding from foreign governments. Some observation points are located near military units, military-industrial enterprises, and other sensitive areas, conducting altitude ratifying and GPS positioning. Others are situated in major grain-producing areas, analyzing the growth of crops and grain yield. Some even transmitted data in real-time to foreign official meteorological organizations over long periods, at high frequencies, and from multiple locations, serving foreign homeland security and meteorological monitoring.

The related equipment is small, easy to install and difficult to detect. It is also capable of automatically collecting and transmitting data online in real time. These foreign-related meteorological detection activities have not applied for administrative permission for foreign-related meteorological detection with the meteorological authorities, nor have they submitted meteorological data to them. 

The transmission of meteorological data abroad without the approval of Chinese meteorological authorities violates regulations such as the management measures for foreign-related meteorological detection and data and the Data Security Law. 

National security agencies, in conjunction with meteorological and state secrets protection departments, have investigated and handled these illegal activities, promptly blocking the illegal transfer of meteorological data overseas.

"Meteorological data is extremely important for every country," Li told the Global Times. "Using a country's meteorological data can predict the future development trends of the sectors such as agriculture in the country."

An anonymous security expert told the Global Times that the strategic value of meteorological data in military operations is evident from the historical anecdote of "borrowing arrows with thatched boats." Once a country's meteorological and hydrological characteristics are leaked, it poses a potential threat to its military security.

Foreign forces long target Chinese individuals 

Students view a national security education exhibition at a primary school in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province, on April 11, 2024.Photo: VCG

Students view a national security education exhibition at a primary school in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province, on April 11, 2024. Photo: VCG

Beyond expanding espionage scope and intensifying theft efforts, the inherent tactics of foreign intelligence agencies continue. 

In recent years, foreign anti-China hostile forces have extensively used the internet and other channels to carry out ideological "psychological warfare" on domestic individuals, distorting and hyping domestic hot issues, and attacking and slandering China's political system. A few inexperienced young students, swayed and misled, have fallen into traps. These victims have been coerced into participating in hostile activities, becoming "pawns" of foreign anti-China hostile forces.

The Global Times learned that national security agencies have recently successfully cracked a typical case where a student from a domestic university was lured by a foreign anti-China party into participating in its activities. The security agencies effectively dealt with subversion activities of these foreign anti-China forces and timely eliminated security risks. 

National security agencies found that a student from a domestic university surnamed Song, driven by curiosity, signed up online to become a volunteer for a certain foreign anti-China party, receiving the party's manifesto and instructions from its core members on participating in anti-China activities and fundraising. Song also frequently visited foreign anti-China websites and provided these sites with negative imagery about China.

In July 2023, based on meticulous investigation and evidence gathering, national security agencies lawfully conducted an administrative inquiry with Song. According to the relevant provisions of China's Counter-Espionage Law, Song was warned and received the administrative penalty. After Song was criticized and educated, he expressed sincere regret for his actions and promised not to engage in similar activities in the future.

It is the legal duty of every citizen to consciously safeguard national security. Intentionally obstructing the lawful execution of tasks by national security agencies will result in legal liability. Recently, national security agencies administered administrative penalties to a Chinese employee of a foreign institution in China for intentionally obstructing the lawful execution of tasks by national security agencies.

The Global Times learned that during the lawful interrogation by national security agencies, a Chinese employee of a foreign institution in China surnamed Fu refused to go to the designated location for questioning, spread information about being interviewed by national security agencies to unrelated individuals, and coordinated with foreign personnel to interfere with the enforcement of national security agencies, intentionally obstructing the lawful execution of their tasks. 

Law enforcement officers from the national security agencies recorded evidence of Fu's intentional obstruction of law enforcement with cameras and, according to the relevant provisions of the Counter-Espionage Law, lawfully administered an administrative detention of 15 days.

"Foreign forces attempt to 'cast a long line to catch a big fish,' scouting for personnel within and outside the country that can be used by them, posing a serious threat to our national security," said Li, the expert. 

Counter-espionage and safeguarding national security are not only the responsibilities of national security agencies but also the duty of the general public to protect their own interests. Citizens need to continuously learn legal knowledge, enhance their security awareness, and collectively build a "safety net" to protect national interests, he said. 

The expert also believes that relevant departments can strengthen regular education in primary and secondary schools, and universities to enhance the public's national security awareness. Meanwhile, the public should also actively cooperate with related work of national security agencies, solidifying the people's defense line for national security.