June 16, 2024

China says MI6 recruited Chinese couple as spies

China has accused UK’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6 of recruiting Chinese state employees as spies.

In a post on its official WeChat channel, China’s Ministry of State Security said MI6 operatives turned a Chinese man identified only by his surname Wang and his wife surnamed Zhou against Beijing.

Both worked in “core confidential” departments in a Chinese state agency.

The ministry alleged that MI6 started cultivating Wang when he went to the UK for his studies in 2015, under a Sino-British exchange program.

The operatives took “special care” of him in the UK, such as by inviting him to dinners and tours to better “understand his interests and weaknesses” the ministry alleged.

The BBC has reached out to the UK authorities for a response.

This comes just over a month after the UK charged two men with spying for China. UK police have accused them of giving “articles, notes, documents or information” to a foreign state, while China has called the allegations “malicious slander”.

Earlier this month, a former Royal Marine charged with assisting the Hong Kong intelligence service was found dead, said police.

Beijing and several Western countries have increasingly been trading accusations of espionage.

China did not reveal how it uncovered the case involving Wang and Ms Zhou, saying only that it came after but a “thorough investigation”.

Chinese authorities claimed the MI6 operatives took advantage of Wang’s “strong desire for money”, befriended him on campus under the guise that they were alumnus, and got him to provide “paid consulting services”.

After a period of time, and under their assessment that “the conditions were ripe”, the operatives then asked him to serve the British government in exchange for better remuneration and offers of security, China’s Ministry of State Security claimed.

Through Wang the MI6 operatives also recruited Ms Zhou to spy for China, it added.

“Wang was initially hesitant but could not resist [the operatives’] repeated persuasion, enticement and even coercion, and eventually agreed,” the ministry said in a statement on WeChat.

“Under Wang’s strong instigation, Zhou agreed to collect intelligence… and he and his wife became British spies.”

The ministry added that the case is still under investigation. It did not say if the couple would be charged.

China could be making public the case at this time as a form of retaliation, but Beijing has also arrested people for espionage prior to the UK cases, said Chong Ja-Ian, a non-resident scholar at Carnegie China.

It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of Beijing’s claims until more information becomes available, Dr Chong said.

“Sometimes these do not appear… The opacity of the PRC system, including its judicial system, especially when it comes to espionage cases, can make understanding the details of the case especially challenging,” he added.

China’s Ministry of State Security has been posting frequent updates on its official channel since it was launched in August.

In January, it warned its citizens against “exotic beauties” seeking to lure them into the hands of foreign spy agencies.

Among other things, it has also cautioned citizens against photographing military equipment and warned against organizations “recruiting aviation enthusiasts as volunteers” to transmit China’s flight data to other countries.

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