China’s top spy agency said on Monday that it is investigating a senior official who is allegedly spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the second claim in 10 days as the communist regime intensifies its counterintelligence campaign amid unprecedented economic troubles.
The 39-year-old Chinese national, surnamed Hao, was a cadre at a ministry and allegedly recruited by the CIA as a spy while he was studying in Japan, according to a statement released by the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the central agency overlooking intelligence and security operations at home and abroad. The agency did not reveal Hao’s gender or the ministry Hao worked for.
The announcement came less than two weeks after the spy agency accused a military-industrial worker of spying for the CIA. The MSS is pushing the public to join the “grim and complex” counterespionage efforts, alarming the United States.
But China observers believe that Beijing’s claims of American spies aim to take the public’s attention away from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) real trouble: an ailing economy.
The MSS, which often kept its work secret, provided details about how the government worker became a CIA source.
The ministry claimed Hao had become acquainted with a U.S. Embassy official known as “Ted” while sorting out a visa application. Ted allegedly invited the Chinese national for dinners, presented gifts, and sought Hao’s help with writing a paper that Ted promised to pay for, the ministry said. Ted allegedly introduced Hao to a colleague named Li Jun before his term at the embassy in Japan ended, the ministry said; Li and Hao then maintained a “cooperative relationship.”
Before Hao completed his studies, Li allegedly revealed being a Tokyo-based CIA personnel and “instigated Hao into rebelling,” telling Hao to return to China to work for a “core and critical unit.” Hao allegedly signed an espionage agreement, accepting assessment and training from the United States, according to the statement.
The ministry said Hao worked in a national department upon returning, “according to the requirements of the CIA,” and provided the CIA with intelligence while collecting U.S. pay.
Feng Chongyi, a China study academic at the University of Technology Sydney, suspected that what drove officials at the spy agency to publicize the two cases was the desire to please Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader, who warned that external threats the country is facing have become “more complex.”
“Even if the security agency can’t find a spy, they have to arrest a few to make the situation look this way,” Mr. Feng told The Epoch Times.
“Like the latest case, that person may be caught. But it is not ruled out and it’s simply for propaganda, to fool [its people] by making up a story for the media to spread. That’s how the [Chinese] bureaucracy works,” he said.
Lai Jianping, a former Chinese lawyer and a current affair commentator, linked the recent spy claims to the political instability and economic downturn the CCP faces.
As the number of unemployed young people grows, Chinese authorities stopped releasing the unemployment data for 16- to 24-year-olds. Official data showed the youth jobless rate hit a record high of 21.3 percent in June.
Adding to the gloom, Evergrande, China’s real estate giant, filed for bankruptcy protection in New York on Aug. 17. Another large developer, Country Garden, is now in danger of default after missing two bond payments totaling $22.5 million on Aug. 9, further shaking investors’ confidence. Analysts are now worried that the crisis in the property market, an engine of the country’s economy, will spread throughout the economy.
“Once the economy collapses, what does the CCP rely on to control the country?” Mr. Lai said. “[The CCP] is now on the verge of collapse.”
He said that to take attention away from the flailing economy at home, the CCP appeared to deploy the strategy of creating an enemy abroad.
Moreover, the existence of American intelligence sources handed the CCP a pretext to tighten ideological control of the public, he added.
The Chinese authorities have called on all citizens to join the campaign to crack down on foreign spies following an expansion of the anti-espionage law that took effect in July.
The legislation, which was first unveiled on April 26, broadens the definition of espionage to “all documents, data, materials, or items related to national security and interests.” But it doesn’t specify what falls under national security, sparking fears of a more hostile environment for foreign businesses and journalists in China.
The CCP’s leadership then ratched up the call for counterespionage work. On July 14, the nation’s spymaster called for officials to support the cause on “covert front lines,” referencing the Party’s intelligence work.
The secretive MSS launched an official account on the Chinese social media platform WeChat. On July 31, it published the first post titled “Anti-Espionage Fight Requires the Mobilization of the Entire Society!”
CIA Director William Burns acknowledged on July 20 that the agency has “made progress” in rebuilding intelligence operations in China.
Mr. Lai said that Beijing’s story about CIA spies might be fabricated. But there is also a possibility that the Chinese national is a U.S. agent, he said, because “the Chinese Communist Party is so bad that some people want to subvert the dictatorship in every way.”
Luo Ya and Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times