By Vipul Tamhane
A war is fought more in the mind than the battlefield. The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu emphasizes the significance of subduing the enemy without much effort by knowing about him more than he knows his follies. Thus, obtaining information has always been vital for any game Chinese plays across the globe.
It’s not only the traditional espionage, honey traps and network of informants which are used by China but they eavesdrop on your calls through Huawei produced equipment, cheap Chinese chips used in various devices, apps like TikTok and more openly by floating a spy balloon over United States territory.
Aftermath of the spy balloon episode from Jan 28-Feb 4 earlier this year, a significant number of Chinese spy programs have been discovered in the US.
According to reports, Beijing has already set up covert police stations at Chinatown, Manhattan in New York. These are allegedly being used to intimidate, harass, and hunt critics and Chinese dissidents, according to officials. Two agents, Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, who are currently in FBI detention and facing charges of espionage.
They sought to clean up their act and erase the conversations by the end of 2022 after receiving some signals from their China based handler that the FBI was looking into them last year. These spies were hired to find and neutralize a pro-democracy activist. The Chinese National Police appeared to have utilized the station to monitor American citizens on the US soil.
The Chinese run over 100 such police stations operating illegally in around 53 countries. As of December 2022, 13 nations had begun to look into these centers.
When Montana banned TikTok last week, the Chinese sympathizers raised the bogey of the democratic rights in the US and freedom of speech and expression. But one fact needs to be emphasized here that nothing in the People’s Republic of China is about people but everything is about the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
China wants to keep tabs on its nationals outside of its boundaries, which have a direct impact on global security and violate host countries’ sovereignty. How did it even make it this far?
The short answer is that Premier Xi’s meticulous preparation, China’s tenacity, and long-term ambitions made it happen. US authorities have advocated for more vigilance and collaboration amongst government agencies to fight this danger and voiced alarm about China’s expanding espionage efforts.
The Chinese continue to blatantly break the American for espionage purposes. The Ministry of State Security in China, often known as MSS, is the country’s primary intelligence agency and employs many of those spies. The CID and counterintelligence departments of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) were united to become the MSS in 1983. In July 2020, the Guangdong State Security Department (GSSD) of the MSS is said to have worked with two hackers to conduct a significant attack. People are unsure of the MSS specifically in light of the most recent events. The MSS is a lot more hybrid than the US mechanism.
Like the CIA, it engages in cyber eavesdropping, domestic counterespionage operations, and global intelligence operations. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to tighten the security measures heavily rely on the MSS.
The National Security Law of China in 2015 expanded the MSS’s purview to include the deep sea, space, and the internet. The MSS is infamous for brutally treating dissidents and upholding covert prison centers around China.
For instance, Chen Guangcheng, a blind civil rights lawyer, spent 19 months being held captive in his house until breaking out in 2012, traveled to the US embassy in Beijing before moving to New York.
According to media sources, among other noteworthy victories, President Donald Trump may have made calls on unprotected mobile devices. A business like MSS is totally resistant to the microscope. A senior MSS officer who was allegedly planning to conspire to steal trade secrets from famous aviation businesses was detained in 2018 and extradited to the US. For the first time ever, a Chinese spy had ever faced legal action in America.
China has a long history of espionage, and its intelligence activities in the US have been a cause for concern for the authorities for decades.
In 2015, the US government charged six Chinese nationals with economic espionage and theft of trade secrets related to computer software, wind turbines, and other technologies. The six individuals were believed to be members of a hacking group called “Unit 61398,” which was allegedly sponsored by the Chinese military.
In 2018, a former CIA officer named Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of China. Lee was suspected of providing information to the Chinese government that led to the deaths of several CIA informants in China. In the same year, the US Department of Justice indicted ten Chinese intelligence officers including Yanjun Xu and hackers for stealing intellectual property and confidential business information from US aviation companies.
Xu was extradited to the US from Belgium, where he was lured by US authorities posing as executives of a fictitious company. The indictment stated that the Chinese government had been “aggressively pursuing” the theft of sensitive data from US companies and organizations.
In 2015, a physics professor at Temple University named Xiaoxing Xi was arrested and charged with sharing sensitive technology regarding the device used in superconductivity research with China, though the evidence was retracted later.
These are just a few examples of Chinese spy programs in the US. It is important to note that not all Chinese nationals in the US are the spies, and the vast majority of them are law-abiding citizens. However, the US government remains vigilant against the threat of espionage and takes steps to protect sensitive information and intellectual property.
It seems like Xi uses “The Art of War” as a textbook, where in Chapter 13 titled “The Use of Spies,” Sun Tzu categorizes spies into five types emphasizing the importance of gathering and using intelligence to gain an advantage in warfare. viz. local spies from the enemy’s territory, inside spies that infiltrate enemy’s organizations, converted spies are the ones who are turned around, doomed spies who provide false information to the enemy, and surviving spies who are sent to provide accurate information about the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, and they must be able to blend in and move unnoticed through enemy territory.
We can observe the usage of all five above. China has utilized and outdone Sun Tzu on his philosophy of clandestine operations in recent years, as if the Chinese have resurrected Sun Tzu with an AI consciousness for their military advisory.
Vipul Tamhane is a counter terrorism expert and a visiting faculty with Pune University (SPPU) at Dept. of Defense and Strategic Studies (DDSS). He is also founder and Editor-in-Chief at Diplomacy Direct, a public interest Think Tank based in India.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times