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TematicheCina e Indo-PacificoChina uses internet tools to recruit high-valued foreign nationals...

China uses internet tools to recruit high-valued foreign nationals for spying

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With China’s move to recruit foreign nationals for spying taking new shape and contours, Western countries like Canada, the US and Germany are finding themselves at their wits end as Chinese intelligence officials are increasingly using internet tools to lure away their high-valued citizens to get access to “confidential and privileged” information. Reminding the world as how China is increasingly getting into the skin of advanced countries by interfering with their domestic affairs, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) recently wrote several social media posts, highlighting Chinese intelligence officials’ involvement in recruitment of “high-value” Canadians to spy for Beijing. “Canadians beware! The People’s Republic of China’s Intelligence Services (PRCIS) are targeting Canadian citizens inside and outside of China,” the CSIS said in a tweet on June 21st

Explaining through graphics how Canadians are approached and cultivated by Chinese intelligence agents, the CSIS presented four social media posts to give details of the Chinese agent’s recruitment process. In one post, Canada’s primary national intelligence agency said, “Do not become a target of PRCIS recruitment. Be careful whom you connect with on LinkedIn and other online platforms.” In another post, it said “The PRCIS approaches their target under cover via LinkedIn, posing as anything from an HR recruiter to security consultants. They then move the communication to secondary platforms at the earliest opportunity, such as WeChat, 

WhatsApp, or email.” Once targets are approached, the CSIS said, they are asked “to write reports for client ‘consultants’ in exchange for payment. Targets may also be invited to meetings with ‘clients.’ Both the consultant and the client are in fact intelligence officers,” the Canadian intelligence agency said in its tweet, exposing the activities of Chinese intelligence officials in Canada. 

These social media posts appeared just a week after Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chief, Michael Duheme, said there were 100 plus ongoing probes into suspected foreign interference in Canada. In recent months, Canada has been troubled by a “series of leaked intelligence reports detailing how Beijing allegedly meddled in two previous federal elections in favour of the ruling Liberal Party”, the South China Morning Post wrote. In June itself, the Global Communication Director of China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Bob Pickard, resigned from the organisation accusing it of being dominated by the members of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Canadian police have already launched a probe into allegations of China operating multiple secret police stations across the country. However, Canada is not the only country, which is flooded with Chinese deep state’s activities. The US is equally haunted by the ambigous approach of Chinese spies on its soil. 

Top officials of the White House have experience of dealing with Chinese spies in all together surprising and inexplicable manner. The New York Times cites an example of a former White House official, who was part of ex-President Barack Obama’s administration, encountering the Chinese intelligence agency’s abominable facetiousness. The US-based daily newspaper, which did not disclose the timing of the incident, said that the former officer received messages from someone on LinkedIn offering to fly him to China and connect him with well-paid opportunities. Yet another senior official of the US administration during Barack Obama’s presidency underwent a similar experience after he befriended a person on LinkedIn. That person claimed to be a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology with a profile page showing connections to White House aides and ambassadors. But when it was probed, no such fellow existed, The New York Times wrote. Interestingly, LinkedIn is one major social media platform that has not been blocked in China because its parent company Microsoft is said to have agreed to censor posts containing delicate material. As a result, Chinese agents use it to their hilt to woo their prospective recruits, sometimes in the guise of corporate firms. 

In 2017, German intelligence agencies were shocked to see that as many as 10,000 attempts had been made by Chinese intelligence agents to recruit people through LinkedIn. Most of those targeted found themselves unwittingly sucked into allurements given by the Chinese deep state functionaries. Jonas Parello -Plesner, an former Danish diplomat, in a comprehensive report published by the US-based Hudson Institute in 2018 on the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign interference tactics and how the US should respond to it, wrote that in 2011 Chinese agents unsuccessfully tried to recruit him through LinkedIn. 

For China, the sky is not the limit when it comes to spying activities in foreign countries and their funding. A hint to this regard can be seen in the statement of the country’s newly appointed Foreign Minister, Qin Gang. In March, he said “China’s diplomacy has pressed the accelerator button,” citing Beijing’s planned international activities in the post pandemic phase. This year, the Chinese government hiked its budget for diplomatic expenditure by a 12.2%, which is a drastic jump from the zero-Covid era expenditure that saw Beijing slashing its budget for diplomacy by 11.8%, before a mild 2.4% increase in 2022, the CNN claimed in its report. 

This diplomatic budget also includes funds for spying purposes in foreign countries. It is also mentioned in inferences by China’s Ministry of Finance, which says “diplomatic expenditure” covers a wide range of areas, from budgets for the Foreign Ministry, Chinese embassies, and consulates, to the country’s participation in international organizations, foreign aid, and external propaganda. As China’s tension with the US not going to cool anytime soon, and as the Joe Biden administration continues to throttle Beijing’s chance to procure high-end technologies from western countries, China will apparently use all its energy and strength to lay access to any information and secrets that could serve its interests, say experts. That means China will use more means and measures to meet its intelligence agencies’ demands.

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