How China snoops on the West – from cyber warfare and industrial espionage to courting US and UK politicians and setting up ‘police stations’ abroad


The arrest of an alleged Chinese spy at the heart of the British government has sent shockwaves through the West, sparking fresh urgent questions over how Beijing gathers intelligence.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confronted China’s premier Li Qiang over his country’s ‘unacceptable’ interference in British democracy, while MPs have said it marks an ‘escalation’ in hostilities by the superpower.

It is not the first time China has been condemned for the alleged use of spies. The incident follows allegations earlier this year that China flew a surveillance balloon over the United States, causing a diplomatic furore.

A multitude of Chinese espionage techniques have been documented over the years, with spies arrested and companies sanctioned for their alleged roles.

Here, MailOnline looks at some of the ways China has worked to spy on the West in recent years.

Cyber warfare

The United States warned in 2022 that the Asian giant represents ‘the broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat’ to its government and private sector.

According to researchers and Western intelligence officials, China has become adept at hacking rival nations’ digital systems to gather trade secrets.

In 2021, the United States, NATO and other allies said China had employed ‘contract hackers’ to exploit a breach in Microsoft email systems, giving state security agents access to sensitive information.

Chinese spies have also hacked the US energy department, utility companies, telecommunications firms and universities, according to US government statements and media reports.

The United States also has its own ways of spying on China, deploying surveillance and interception techniques as well as networks of informants.

Tech fears

In the technology sector, there are concerns that China’s state-linked firms would be obliged to share intel with their government.

In 2019, the US Department of Justice charged tech giant Huawei with conspiring to steal US trade secrets, among other offences.

Washington has banned the firm from supplying US government systems and strongly discouraged the use of its equipment in the private sector over fears that it could be compromised.

Huawei denies the charges.

Similar anxiety over TikTok, developed by China’s ByteDance, has been the subject of heated debate in the West – with some lawmakers calling for an outright ban on the app over data security fears.

ByteDance was accused last year of allowing CCP  members to access the data of Hong Kong civil rights activists, allegations the company refuted as ‘baseless’.



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