Alex Newman / The Diplomat
Beijing fiercely denies it. Much of the world ignores it. But according to analysts and officials, the communist-controlled People’s Republic of China operates the single largest intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world—and its growing appetite for secrets has apparently become insatiable.
From economic and military espionage to keeping tabs on exiled dissidents, China’s global spying operations are rapidly expanding. And, therefore, so is the threat. Some analysts even argue the regime—which is also gobbling up such key natural resources as farmland, energy, and minerals—has an eye on dominating the world.
Estimates on the number of spies and agents employed by the communist state vary widely. According to public statements by French author and investigative journalist Roger Faligot, who has written several books about the regime’s security services, there are around two million Chinese working directly or indirectly for China’s intelligence apparatus.
Other analysts say it would be impossible to count the exact number. ‘I doubt they know themselves,’ says Richard Fisher, a senior fellow on Asian military affairs at the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. Regardless, the number is undoubtedly extraordinary. ‘China can rightly claim to have the world’s largest, most amorphous, but also most active intelligence sector,’ he says.
That’s partly because it operates very differently from most. ‘When you consider that China’s intelligence community views any foreign-deployed Chinese citizen, any Chinese delegation, all Chinese criminal networks, and all overseas Chinese with any tangible affinity or connection to the Motherland as a target for recruitment, then you have to find a different way to measure,’ Fisher explains. ‘This has to start with the consideration that any Chinese, especially those from China, from student to CEO, are potential active intelligence assets.’
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