Germany arrests three on suspicion of spying for China, as Britain charges two

In Europe, two Chinese spying scandals were developing on Monday, adding to deep concerns over Beijing’s alleged espionage activities on the continent.

Early in the day, federal prosecutors announced that three German nationals had been arrested on “strong suspicion” of spying for Chinese intelligence services.

Hours later, British authorities charged two men under the Official Secrets Act over allegedly spying for China. This case concerns Christopher Cash, a parliamentary researcher whose arrest last March made headlines.

The double whammy comes amid rising anxiety in some European capitals over the threat of Chinese surveillance practices and as authorities mull how to counter foreign interference in democratic institutions, industry and academia.

“We are aware of the significant threat posed by Chinese espionage in business, industry and science,” said Nancy Faeser, the German interior minister, in a statement.

In Germany, the suspects are accused of gathering sensitive industrial data with military uses, with a view to “expanding China’s maritime combat power”, the prosecutor said in a statement.

The arrest warrant alleges that one of the people, designated as Thomas R., was acting as an agent of Beijing’s state security ministry – its secret police service – and charged with obtaining information on “innovative technologies that could be used militarily”.

The news comes on the heels of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s state visit to China last week during which he pushed Chinese President Xi Jinping on economic concerns, even while pledging to bolster trade relations.

It also emerges amid a European debate on economic security, partly predicated on the desire to prevent hi-tech goods from falling into the hands of China’s military.

Germany’s China shock: as Scholz leaves Beijing, alarm raised about economic ties

Thomas R. was said to have enlisted a couple in the German city of Düsseldorf to gather technological intelligence. Through “Herwig F. and Ina F.”, the first suspect was able to collaborate with the German science and research sectors.

“The accused are strongly suspected of having worked for a Chinese secret service since a point in time that cannot be precisely determined before June 2022,” the prosecutor’s statement read.

They stand accused of forging a cooperation agreement with a German university for the purpose of transferring sensitive scientific information.

This included preparing a study for a “Chinese contractual partner on state-of-the-art machine parts that are also important for the operation of powerful ship engines, for example, in combat ships”, the statement added.

Nancy Faeser, Germany’s interior minister, hailed the arrests as a success for the country’s counter-espionage efforts. Photo: dpa

“Behind the Chinese contractual partner was the MSS employee from whom Thomas R. received his orders,” it continued, referring to the Beijing ministry. “The project was financed by Chinese state authorities.

“At the time of their arrest, the accused were in further negotiations about research projects that could be useful for expanding China’s maritime combat power.”

They are also alleged to have bought a “special laser from Germany” on behalf of Beijing’s state security ministry, and exporting it to China without seeking approval under the EU’s dual-use laws governing trade of the instrument.

The three were scheduled to appear before Germany’s Federal Court of Justice on Monday and Tuesday. They were also to be issued arrest warrants and adjudicated on the terms of their pre-trial detention.

“The three arrests for alleged espionage for a Chinese intelligence service are a great success for our counter-espionage efforts,” said Faeser, the German minister.

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In Britain, it was announced on Monday that ex-researcher Cash would appear in court on Friday alongside a second man, Christopher Berry.

Cash had been an aide to Alicia Kearns, head of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, and previously worked for the China Research Group, an influential think tank launched by Tom Tugendhat, now the security minister.

According to a statement from the Crown Prosecution Service, the men are accused of working between January 2022 and February 2023 to “obtain, collect, record, publish or communicate … articles, notes, documents or information which were calculated to be, might be or were intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy”.

In a statement, the Chinese embassy in London called the allegations “completely fabricated” and “malicious slander”, and urged Britain to “stop anti-China political manipulation”.

UK and US sanction Chinese entities for ‘malicious cyber activity’

The German and British cases could heighten suspicions of Chinese espionage activity in Europe.

Last month, for the first time in three years, the British government slapped sanctions on Chinese state-affiliated entities. The decision came in response to alleged “malicious cyber activity” directed at members of parliament.

British intelligence services accused China’s state-affiliated APT31 of “conducting reconnaissance activity” against a group of lawmakers who were “prominent in calling out the malign activity of China” in 2021, the government said on Monday.



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