Russian intelligence can’t hold a candle to their Chinese counterparts

RIGA, (BM) – Recently, information has appeared in the media about the expulsion of Russian diplomats with ties to intelligence services. The reasons for this varied between countries – the US did so in response to Russia’s cyberattacks and election meddling, while Czechia expelled diplomats due to their suspected involvement in an ammunition depot explosion in 2014.

Every so often, Russian diplomats are expelled from countries because they are in reality intelligence service officers. These account only for “caught” diplomats – roughly 80% of embassy employees are intelligence officers, not to mention those who operate under different covers.

Moreover, nowadays entering and staying in a country is much easier. In this regard, former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves made a twitter entry urging to bar all Russian citizens from entering the EU because “the security of Europe is at stake”. It’s hard not to agree with him, because the easier it is to cross borders, the easier it is to engage in subversive activities.

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However, we won’t talk about Russia this time. Everyone is now certain that Russia uses brutal and dishonest methods to strengthen its influence or achieve a decision beneficial only to itself. And Russia isn’t even attempting to hide this. Do Russian ambassadors ever comment and explain Russia’s positions? I believe the answer is no. It the exact opposite with Chinese ambassadors. Which would you prefer – a friendly, smiling and communicative Chinese ambassador or a grumpy and silent Russian one?

Of course, the fact that the Chinese ambassador is so accommodating is somewhat surprising, but it’s most likely just a coincidence. One must possess talent to ask the questions that the Chinese ambassador wants to hear.

We won’t talk about the professionalism of journalists either. This will be about who is more dangerous – the grumpy silent one or the smiling and talkative one? I believe it is both, or perhaps even the latter one. The first will stab you in the back as soon as the opportunity arises and then desecrate and rob you. The second will smile silently but will inevitably strangle you with a silk scarf the moment you least expect it.

What am I trying to say here? It’s very simple – at the moment, China is being significantly cleverer. It doesn’t deliberately cause commotion or openly engage in unfriendly activities. It’s silently offering different investment opportunities, knowing well that they will be hard to repay. It also knows that in order to force people to be loyal only to China, regardless of which country they reside in, they must be conditioned that way. And this is achieved by its Confucius Institutes.

What about the activities of intelligence services? The recipe here is simple as well – why recruit people abroad where other intelligence services operate? There is a simpler way – invite them to China and recruit them in your own house.

The best example is the recent case in Estonia. According to the available information, the first contact between the Estonian scientist and Chinese intelligence officer took place in China, and only afterwards in other countries. The scientist was aided by a woman who once was one of the best golf players in Estonia and who also owns a consulting firm. Her social media accounts reveal that she is well traveled. Moreover, one entry talks about an incident in 2019 when she was detained in Hong Kong and interrogated for several hours.

What can we conclude from these cases? China provides to its persons of interest the opportunity to attend some event in China, where it can attempt to recruit them without any risk, or instead use a more brutal method – find or create a reason to detain them, after which it is only a matter of technique.

China is very different from Russia in this regard. In Russia intelligence operations are carried out by intelligence services, and different private companies are set up to assist them in their activities. In China, however, it’s the duty of state, private and other establishments to aid intelligence services with anything they require. This is literally written in the Chinese Communist Party’s guidelines for its members.

These guidelines also prescribe that members of the party “must educate private entrepreneurs so that they obey Xi’s socialist ideology”. According to the new guidelines, “the private sector requires politically sensitive persons that will be loyal to the party without any objections”. The harsh truth is that when you are communicating with anyone from China, be it from the private or the state sector, you must understand that you are actually communicating with Chinese intelligence services. Consequently, all events organized by China are monitored by its intelligence services.

This makes me wonder about our own businessmen and politicians attending events organized and paid for by China, as well as the eagerness of individual politicians to establish closer cooperation with China. Information can be handed to foreign intelligence services both via people, and via technical means.

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There are absolutely no doubts that currently China is among the leaders when it comes to IT and technology. Yes, devices are produced by private companies, but we must remember what that means in China. Therefore, it is very reasonable to believe that when you purchase a Chinese-made device, it will also have some undisclosed functions that the majority of people are completely unaware of. For instance, the largest telecom company Huawei has recently been under fire because of suspicions that the Chinese government uses the company’s devices to gather intelligence.

When the implementation of 5G was discussed in Latvia, Huawei was mentioned the most. On 12 November 2018, the Latvian telecommunications company Bite and Huawei signed a memorandum of understanding in China that intends to build 5G infrastructure networks and develop a narrowband Internet of Things in Latvia.

There is no information on whether this cooperation is still ongoing or was ceased.

Knowing China’s modus operandi of acquiring information, I would like to hope that China isn’t interested in Latvia and that they are only engaging in “clean diplomacy and business”. Sadly, I’m also aware that there is absolutely no reason to believe that China will operate differently in Latvia than it does elsewhere in the world. For this reason, I believe that even interviews with the Chinese ambassador give us the opportunity to try to understand and predict the actions of the Chinese government.

The only thing that puzzles me is that many Latvians have visited China but there have been no announcements that any of them have been caught. Guess they’re just good at what they’re doing ­– but who are they?

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