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Jun 3, 2024, 4:26pm EDT
South Asia
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Semafor Signals

China accuses UK of recruiting government officials as spies

Insights from Foreign Affairs, Prospect Magazine, and The Economist

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Florence Lo/File Photo/Reuters
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The News

China has accused UK spy agency M16 of recruiting two Chinese citizens, and said that the couple, who worked in a “central state agency,” passed Chinese state secrets to MI6 for several years in exchange for hotel rooms, trips, and financial incentives.

It’s the latest in a series of accusations by Beijing regarding British intelligence operations — and vice versa. In January, China accused the UK of recruiting someone who led a foreign consultancy to work for M16, while British officials have warned that Chinese spies are increasingly active in the UK, and a UK parliamentary researcher who worked on China policy and another individual were arrested in March on suspicion of spying for China.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

United States on spy recruitment drive in China

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Sources:  
The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs

The US has ramped up its own efforts to recruit spies in China, after Beijing arrested or executed almost two dozen suspected American spies in the early 2010s, The Wall Street Journal reported. China’s crackdown left the US with “no real insight into leadership plans and intentions in China at all,” a former senior intelligence official told the Journal. The CIA has doubled its China budget in the last three years, and ramped up satellite and electronic surveillance. While China remains a difficult place to recruit, the US intelligence community could do more to analyze data and open-source information coming out of China, a former CIA official and expert on China’s intelligence activities wrote in Foreign Affairs.

Counter-espionage tactics double as propaganda

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Sources:  
BBC, The Economist, The Jamestown Foundation, CNN

The recent volley of espionage allegations between China and the West signals a typically hidden power play “bursting into the open,” wrote the BBC’s security correspondent. China’s Ministry of State Security launched an unusually public anti-espionage channel on WeChat last summer, which has featured comics, warnings, and advice on how to avoid becoming a target. The ministry’s warnings also serve as “a vector for distributing propaganda,” The Jamestown Foundation argued. China’s intelligence community has traditionally held a low profile, and the decision to raise it may have come from Beijing’s intelligence chief. He “has been saying for years that new media are important to guide public opinion on the party’s political-legal and national security work,” an expert told CNN.

Attempts to root out espionage may have chilling effect

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Sources:  
Prospect Magazine , The New York Times, ACLU

Over-zealous allegations of espionage risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater if expertise is mistaken for something more insidious, a former China researcher who was blacklisted by the UK wrote in Prospect Magazine. In the US, some Asian American diplomats and national security officials told The New York Times they were banned from working in China due to fears of “foreign influence.” “Because of the stigma around China, Chinese Americans are more likely to be put in a box even if their associations are innocent in nature,” a former FBI counterintelligence analyst told the Times. In 2022, an Asian-American scientist won a $1.8 million settlement after officials accused her of spying for China, the charges were eventually dropped.

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