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German Intelligence accuses China of unlawful information gathering

News Agencies | Updated on: 12 December 2017, 11:34 IST
(ANI)

China's leaders vehemently deny that they interfere in the internal politics of others or that they pursue hegemony - because they are not like others.

However, that proclamation of innocence has been shown to be a bald-faced lie through various revelations this past week.

For instance, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Germany's intelligence service, released details of an elaborate Chinese intelligence scheme to gather information about officials and politicians through social media.

The BfV took the unusual step of calling out China by stating, "Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way."

The BfV identified fake profiles featuring professional-looking people. German security officials said 10,000+ German citizens had been contacted on LinkedIn but warned, "There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified."

This demonstrates growing realization in Europe and the USA about covert Chinese activity overseas.

Or take Chinese attempts to influence Australian politics.

A study of electoral commission data showed nearly 80 percent of foreign donations to Australian political parties since 2000 bore links to China. The monetary figure amounted to just AUD12.6 million but, alarmingly, in 2015-16 alone 94.4 percent of foreign money came from Chinese nationals or entities.

In response to growing recognition of the problem, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took a long-overdue vow on December 5 to clamp down on internal meddling with new laws on foreign interference and foreign donations.

He insisted they were "not about any one country", though they came amidst a slew of exposures where Chinese largesse influenced Australian politicians.

When introducing the proposed legislation to the lower house, Turnbull said, "Media reports have suggested that the Chinese communist party has been working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities and even the decisions of elected representatives right here in this building. We take these reports very seriously." Under the proposed law, it would be a crime to covertly act on behalf of a foreign entity to influence a political or government process.

Chinese officials were furious with Turnbull's announcement:"It poisons the atmosphere of the China-Australia relationship and undermines the foundation of mutual trust and bilateral cooperation. We express strong dissatisfaction with that and have made a serious complaint with the Australian side."

The Foreign Ministry's statement that "China develops its friendly relations with other countries on the basis of mutual respect for.non-interference in internal affairs" was paradoxical given that it was commenting on Australian internal affairs in direct response to Chinese behaviour.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also complained, "Such remarks simply cater to the irresponsible reports by some Australian media that are without principles and full of bias against China." This reflected a default setting for China, where any criticism directed against China is always a sign of bias.

China will have to tone down its defensive indignation. Kneejerk buzzwords such as "bias", "anti-China", "hysteria" and "prejudice" need to disappear. China has great difficulty receiving criticism and it normally lashes out in response. It does not yet see that criticism can improve relations, rather than taking each one as a relation-ending slap in the face.

Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, is under no illusions about China's strategy. He told The New Daily, "Western democracy is now under attack from the Chinese regime." Indeed, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation recently said it had identified up to ten political candidates at the state and local level who it believed had close ties to Chinese intelligence agencies.

This issue of Chinese influence-peddling via both individuals and organizations is one that countries are going to have to increasingly confront. In Australia, for instance, the last census revealed that 1.2 million people declared themselves of Chinese heritage, including 600,000 born in China. There are also more than 170,000 Chinese students studying at Australian universities too.

New Zealand is concerned too. In a recent briefing document to the incoming prime minister, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) warned, "New Zealand is not immune to the threat of espionage by foreign states, nor to foreign efforts to interfere with the normal functioning of government or the rights of New Zealand citizens. Such activities in New Zealand over the past year have included attempts to access sensitive government and private sector information, and attempts to unduly influence expatriate communities."

It continued, "NZSIS continues to see foreign powers conduct espionage activity and other hostile state-sponsored activities (including foreign interference) against New Zealand and New Zealanders. Foreign intelligence services pursue information, both classified and publicly available, to support the objectives of their respective governments."

Apprehensions about China are growing, and rightly so. China is a communist party-controlled police state, with President XiJinping's policies more repressive than those of his predecessors. For instance, religions are increasingly being persecuted. The government ordered churches to take down their crosses, and to replace pictures of Christ with images of Xi.

For too long, people in the West have been naive and ignorant of the reality of China's politically repressive system. The revelation of China's nefarious behind-the-scenes manipulation far from its shores is therefore welcome.

J. Michael Cole wrote in The National Interest, "It would be foolish to deny that China is now a major and rightful player on the international scene. It would be equally dangerous to assume, as it seeks to rewrite the rules of the game, that we are dealing with an ordinary country. China is a successful authoritarian party-state the likes of which the world has never seen before."

Another issue is that of blatant hypocrisy. China has imposed extremely strictures on foreign companies and NGOs and enacted laws against interference at home. So why is Beijing furious at other countries implementing laws that do not even come close to China's draconian regulations?

China is known to petulantly punish others too, examples being those bold enough to have met with the Dalai Lama, or the Norwegian government's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in 2010. Last year Foreign Minister Wang Yi launched an embarrassing tirade against a Canadian journalist when she questioned him on China's human rightsrecord. Browbeating journalists, perhaps because they get away with it at home.

Or take the irony of China hosting the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen from 2-6 December. Xi was quoted, "The development of the internet knows no national or sectoral boundaries. The sound use, development and governance of the internet thus calls for closer international cooperation and joint efforts to build a community of common future in cyberspace."

Similarly, Xu Lin, the director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, called for countries to respect China's cyberspace sovereignty and policies. Yet cyberspace in China is becoming more and more tightly patrolled. A crackdown on virtual private networks (VPN) is just one symptom, and popular sites such as Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook all remain blocked.

Ironically, the 1,500 participants at the World Internet Conference were permitted unlimited access to the internet, in sharp contrast to the rest of China where it falls under the tightly controlled Great Firewall. Even as China lauds frontier technologies, its security organs are using the same advances to suppress communications.

Even worse, China is working aggressively to get other countries to sign onto its vision for the internet, and such conferences give a veneer of respectability to China's position.

Or what of China's hypocrisy in hosting the South-South Human Rights Forum in Beijing? Some 300 delegates heard about a "human rights development path with Chinese characteristics" from one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Wang Yi crowed, "There's no one size fits all approach in human rights practices. No one is in a position to lecture others on human rights."

The irony! While telling others they are not fit to lecture on human rights, he did precisely that.

Wang pointed to the alleviation of poverty as his country's contribution to improving human rights. However, the NGO China Human Rights Defenders fought back, saying in a statement, "The 'secret' of the 'China success' hinges on squashed protests, silenced complaints and swollen jails and extrajudicial holding cells. Under Xi Jinping, the government has escalated suppression on civil-political liberties, closed down space for civil society, and persecuted lawyers and activists who come to the defense of victims of social-economic rights violations and assist them in seeking redress."

The danger of China's agenda was succinctly summed up by the Washington Post: "While the Chinese Communist Party historically dedicated itself to defending its domestic repression and strict social controls, Beijing under Xi Jinping is increasingly promoting that system as a model for development abroad while working to define global governance to cement Chinese practices."

As China sashays onto the center of the international stage, Xi has pitched China as a respectable elder statesman. As President Donald Trump ensures that American influence wanes further internationally, Xi has sensed the opportunity to assert a greater foreign influence. However, his narratives need to be questioned and exposed. 

-ANI

First published: 12 December 2017, 11:34 IST
 
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