Chinese spies infiltrated in Belgium, « operating in a gray area »

“At least 53 Chinese act as 'consular agents' in our country. They are spread across the ten provinces and Brussels. These include Chinese nationals living here, international students and Chinese from the business community,” the Safeguard Defenders report said.

Tags : Belgium, China spying, Safeguard Defenders,

At least 53 Chinese spies infiltrated in our country: “China is clearly operating in a gray area”

In Belgium, no less than 53 Chinese spies pretended to be volunteer consular agents, according to an investigation by the human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders consulted by our colleagues at Het Laatste Nieuws. But who are these spies? And what are they doing here? Elements of response with political scientist Jonathan Holslag. “Knowing the Chinese, you shouldn’t be naive.”

“At least 53 Chinese act as ‘consular agents’ in our country. They are spread across the ten provinces and Brussels. These include Chinese nationals living here, international students and Chinese from the business community,” the Safeguard Defenders report said.

“Obviously, these are not really volunteer consular agents.” This status does not exist at all,” explains Laura Harth, of the NGO Safeguard Defenders. “These are Chinese nationals who have generally lived here for some time. Officially, they help other Chinese in this country find their way through administrative twists and turns, for example. In truth, it is a network of people controlled by the ‘United Front’, a Chinese Communist Party organization that seeks to maintain control over the Chinese population outside of China and expand its influence globally.”

“They are the eyes and ears of the Chinese government.” (Jonathan Holslag, Expert at ULB
Chinese middle finger)

But what exactly are these volunteers doing in Belgium? “They are the eyes and ears of the Chinese government,” explains Jonathan Holslag, political scientist and professor at ULB. “Their main task is to monitor the Chinese community in Belgium and make sure they are in tune. This means: maintaining discipline and suppressing dissent. But also transmit information to the motherland, China”. As for whether this is indeed espionage, Jonathan Holslag cannot say with certainty. “Everything suggests that this is the case. Let’s say there is a big risk.”

In a decision handed down in 2022, a Canadian judge unequivocally described the Chinese network as “a spy service that goes directly against the interests of Canada”. In the spring of this year, the G7, the group of seven largest industrial nations, explicitly called on the Chinese government to respect the Vienna Convention, which sets diplomatic rules. A month later, China responded with a big middle finger to the rest of the world, by legalizing and expanding its global network of volunteers.

Test method

And the Chinese don’t make much effort to hide their “consular agents” from the rest of the world. The Chinese news agency Xinhua indicates that as early as 2013, the Chinese embassy in Belgium began to set up a voluntary consular liaison mechanism. Was our country the first country to do this? “We don’t know,” replies Laura Harth. “But this is the first reference we found. The system was probably tested here.”

According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an inauguration ceremony of the Volunteer Group for the Consular Protection of Overseas Chinese in Belgium was organized at the embassy in 2017. As Safeguard Defenders explains, citing an article from China News Service, “more than 70 consular protection volunteers from Chinese expatriate groups, Chinese-funded companies, local university federations” participated in a training meeting organized by the embassy in January 2018.

Anyone carrying out consular work in our country must be registered there. Chinese “agents” clearly are not. So is this an illegal practice? Our country’s security services are closely monitoring the phenomenon, but cannot react. Furthermore, no official position has been taken at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In diplomatic affairs, it is important not to overreact. Even if the situation irritates. “China is clearly operating in a gray area. There are obstacles and she knows we cannot intervene easily.”

For Mr Holslag, this is another signal that we cannot ignore. “This is a big challenge for our intelligence services. We need to be critical and thoughtful, and monitor this network more closely. We need to invest more in counterintelligence. In this area, we absolutely cannot be naive.”

Source : 7sur7, 21/11/2023

#China #Belgium #Spying

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