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Why you should believe China’s spying accusations against the UK

Western intelligence agencies have made no secret about their wishes to infiltrate Beijing

China recently announced that it had arrested two of its own nationals on suspicion of aiding British foreign intelligence agency MI6. According to Beijing, the suspected couple were lured by the husband’s “desire for money” having recruited him while he was studying in the UK, claiming that they subjected him to “repeated persuasion, enticement and even coercion”. The individual, named only as Wang, then worked with his wife on behalf of British intelligence in an attempt to spy on the Chinese State.

The revelation of two spies allegedly working for MI6 coincides with a growing alarm in the UK regarding supposed Chinese espionage. Across the past few months, two men have been charged with spying for China, one who was a parliamentary researcher, another group of men were then charged with doing so on behalf of the “Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.” Finally, in addition to that, the UK government publicised several alleged hacks and leaks, including in the Electoral Register and Ministry of Defence, which it has blamed on Beijing.

It is easy amidst these allegations to assume that Beijing is engaging in a “tit for tat” given the widespread negative publicity coming from Britain, and it is obviously in Beijing’s political interest to make the cases of alleged UK spying known, but that doesn’t mean that the allegations are necessarily without merit. It might first be added, that while Western establishment media promulgates constant paranoia about China, the UK remains part of the Five Eyes network, which is the most comprehensive and sophisticated intelligence alliance in the world. London actively cooperates with Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand to share intelligence, and closely follows its geopolitical goals.

Second, MI6 has hardly made it a secret that it seeks to increase its focus on China. Alex Younger, the former head of the Agency, stated last year that Britain is in “a competition” with Beijing and “must wake up.” In 2021, the current head of MI6 stated that China, as well as Russia and Iran, were the agency’s top priorities. Logically, looking at such open political rhetoric, it seems improbable to assume MI6 would not be attempting to infiltrate China and its government. This after all is not just the British agency’s chief objective, but also that of the CIA in the US too. William Burns, current head of the CIA, has been quite open in stating America’s objective to “rebuild its network” in China which has in fact been forcibly suppressed by the Communist Party. One can only assume based on this that the UK is a willing accomplice.

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It is for this reason that China has aggressively intensified its domestic campaign to root out and arrest spies in its home territory, an effort predictably framed by the media as “closing up” or being “arbitrary.” When we think of spies, especially British ones, there is always a temptation to assume they are super skilled secret agents like James Bond, but in reality, intelligence gathering works in a mundane way by making connections inside of key institutions in order to gain access to confidential information. Those who are successfully bought and exist on the inside are known as “assets” and are often financially rewarded for their efforts.

There is also a grey zone that overlaps between what constitutes “intelligence” and “research” in the form of information, and thus the work of the CIA and MI6 often strongly connects with the state and military sponsored “think tanks.” Take for example, Michael Korvig, a Canadian who was arrested on espionage charges in China following Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Although the mainstream media proclaimed his “innocence” constantly, it was ultimately revealed that he, as an employee of the International Crisis Group think tank, was providing intelligence to the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service.

Because of this, China has also cracked down on US consultancy firms in the country, such as for example, Mintz, which is headed by a former CIA official. Why does it crack down on these firms? Because they can gather research about Chinese companies and organisations which can then be passed back to the US government, especially on issues such as supply chains. Thus, China typically pays close attention to locals who cooperate with these firms, who can become witting or unwitting spies. All in all, this teaches us about the various efforts the UK and US go to in order to spy within China.

Although the mainstream media paint McCarthyist and often absurd exaggerations of Chinese spying everywhere, often opportunistically, the reality is that this works both ways. The CIA and MI6 want to infiltrate China’s own government, meaning a real Cold War-style spying game is taking place behind the scenes.

 

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