For the past few years, U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning about the threat of Chinese espionage. Recently, the administration apparently expelled two Chinese Embassy officials in secret after they drove onto a military base in the state of Virginia. The last time Chinese officials were expelled by the American government was in 1987. The latest expulsions signal a strengthening U.S. stance against the Chinese threat.
Expelling the spies
“The Chinese officials and their wives drove up to a checkpoint for entry to the base… A guard, realizing that they did not have permission to enter, told them to go through the gate, turn around and exit the base, which is common procedure in such situations. But the Chinese officials instead continued on to the base… After the fire trucks blocked them, the Chinese officials indicated that they had not understood the guard’s English instructions, and had simply gotten lost,” according to The New York Times.
The incident took place in September. On October 16, the U.S. State Department placed restrictions on the activities of all Chinese diplomats. They now have to provide notice before visiting education institutions, research centers, or state and local officials. The U.S. administration justified the restrictions, stating they were in response to the existing Chinese restrictions that require American diplomats in China to get permission before visiting certain organizations or traveling beyond their host cities. The new rules were made applicable to all Chinese Missions to the U.S. and its territories.
China lashed out over the restrictions. “The U.S. accusation on our officials is completely inconsistent with the truth… We urge the U.S. to correct its mistake, withdraw this decision and protect Chinese diplomats’ legitimate rights and interests according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said to The New York Times.
The CIA apparently did not want to see the Chinese officials expelled. They argued that it could prompt Beijing to change the nature of their spy operations, making it harder to track Chinese spies. However, the State Department chose to make an example out of the incident. Though it isn’t clear what the Chinese officials were doing at the base, experts theorize that the intruders were testing the security at the military facility. If the officials had explored the place undetected, Beijing could have sent more experienced intelligence officers to the site.
Chinese spying in the US
Chinese spies are the biggest threat that the United States is facing at present. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “more than 80 percent of all economic espionage charges brought by federal prosecutors since 2012 implicated China… Since January 2018, more than 30 China-related espionage cases, including those involving Chinese intelligence officers, former U.S. intelligence officials, Chinese nationals, and naturalized U.S. citizens from China, have made the headlines,” according to The Epoch Times.
According to the FBI, they are currently investigating over 1,000 cases of intellectual property (IP) theft, almost all of which point to China being the source of such crimes. Nicolas Eftimiades, the author of Chinese Intelligence Operations has compiled a database of Chinese espionage efforts across the world. Most of the cases involve critical technologies in areas Beijing wants to dominate for its “Made in China 2025” plan, like robotics, biotechnology, and aeronautics.