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China Security Memo: April 15, 2010

10 MINS READApr 15, 2010 | 20:49 GMT

Economic Espionage

China will have to amend its legal system to protect commercial secrets, China's Xinhua news agency reported April 13, quoting a government official. The definition of a commercial secret has been widely debated over the past year in China, following the arrest of Rio Tinto's Stern Hu and three of his colleagues for bribery and stealing commercial secrets. On April 14, the Xinhua article was no longer accessible online, suggesting the issue is being discussed — much like the Stern Hu trial — behind closed doors. The article did not debate the definition of a commercial secret, which, under Chinese law, can be defined somewhat arbitrarily by the Ministry of Public Security. The article did say China's progress in enacting legislation that would protect economic and commercial information has lagged behind that of other countries, particularly the United States, which passed the Economic Espionage Act in 1996. According to the article, many foreign commercial operations in China were actually fronts for national intelligence organizations, a claim STRATFOR sources in-country began to express late last year. Indeed, some STRATFOR sources outside China believe Stern Hu actually was part of a foreign intelligence operation. The use of "non-official cover" as opposed to diplomatic cover is certainly a reality in China (though not as extensive as the article suggests), and the country's concern is not unwarranted. However, this concern is rising now in an economic environment that is increasingly protectionist. Trade disputes between China and the United States have heated up as a result of the economic crisis, and some Western companies have realized that China's opaque and increasingly fickle regulatory environment sometimes makes the cost of doing business in China higher than anticipated. Thus, the Chinese government's current focus on commercial espionage may not be solely security-driven. Such an accusation may also have an economic angle that could be used to justify more control of foreign businesses, especially as Beijing tries to give domestic companies a competitive global edge.

Huawei

One Chinese company with a global edge is the Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant Huawei, which also has an expansive global reach and a reputation as a front for Chinese espionage operations. After the Financial Times reported April 4 that Huawei was in talks with U.S. defense and intelligence agencies about a possible bid by the company for a unit of Motorola, chatter over Huawei and its intelligence links has resumed. Huawei has done deals with more than 45 telecommunication companies around the world, including U.S. anti-spyware company Symantec. Since China is known for setting up commercial enterprises as fronts for intelligence operations, many of Huawei's business relationships have made foreign governments nervous. Australian intelligence has voiced concern over Huawei's interest in developing the country's national broadband network, and India's intelligence organizations have complained about recent deals with Huawei to build a 93 million-line mobile network in southern India. These complaints eventually led to Indian telecom giant Bharat Sanchar Nigam killing the contract in March. Huawei's planned purchase of American company 3Com was dropped in early 2008 due to concerns expressed by the Bush administration. In early 2003, U.S.-based Cisco Systems filed a lawsuit against Huawei alleging intellectual property theft. The lawsuit was quietly settled, but it did much to reinforce Huawei's reputation as a commercial front for Chinese espionage. And it certainly doesn't help that Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei is a former officer in the People's Liberation Army. That, along with the company's success as a global enterprise, helps fuel allegations that the company operates with the good graces of Beijing. In order for Huawei to gain permission for the Motorola deal, it may have to sign a "mitigation agreement" with the U.S. government, which would require security measures such as employing U.S. citizens to manage operations. Regardless of such measures, if Huawei is indeed operating as an intelligence front and is able to gain even limited access to Motorola's network infrastructure in the United States, its ability to infiltrate U.S. telecommunications would be greatly enhanced. Given Motorola's contracts with the U.S. government (including intelligence agencies) — not to mention the extensive commercial applications of its products — the United States will seriously consider the conditions of such a venture. (click here to view interactive graphic)

April 8

  • Chinese media reported that pulverized lime, a potentially dangerous bleaching agent, was being added to the regular cornstarch bleaching agent sold by a company in Rugao, Jiangsu province. Pulverized lime can cause damage to the human respiratory system over time.
  • A man was sentenced to death by a court in Nanping, Fujian province, for stabbing eight schoolchildren to death about three weeks ago.
  • The former riot police commander in Bozhou, Anhui province, was on trial for corruption and sexual offenses. He allegedly accepted 1.53 million yuan (about $224,000) for police construction contracts and leniency in criminal investigations. The officer reportedly forced his subordinates to pay him monthly bribes. The man also extorted prostitution rings by threatening to crack down on them and allegedly raped some of their employees.
  • As unrest grows over property demolitions and urban development, Beijing began an initiative in which 3,000 lawyers will offer free legal services to city residents and authorities on both sides of land disputes.

April 9

  • A gunfight broke out April 7 during a large brawl in Foshan, Guangdong province, Chinese media reported. At 4 a.m., nearly 100 men began a fight over a dispute at a food stall. Many had knives, while a few used homemade firearms. Two people were injured.
  • The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation announced that a South African was sentenced to death in China for drug smuggling. The South African government is attempting to have the sentence commuted, and the case has been referred to the High Court in Beijing.
  • Former Tongjiang city Political Commissar Chen Jing was arrested in a conspiracy to assassinate a deputy police director in Heilongjiang province. The deputy police director caught the commissar gambling illegally and had him arrested and later dismissed from his job. After the officer's murder two weeks ago, the commissar was found harboring the murder suspect. It was rumored that the officer killed was set to be appointed the next political commissar.
  • Jiangsu prosecutors investigated 10 officials with the National Institute for Control of Pharmaceutical and Biological Products on allegations of corruption, three of whom were later arrested. They are accused of accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for quality certificates.
  • Border police in Inner Mongolia seized 850 kilograms of sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical, during an inspection related to World Expo security efforts for Shanghai.
  • Two Nigerians and one Vietnamese were sentenced to jail terms from three years to life after being caught trafficking drugs into Changsha, Hunan province. They were discovered at the airport March 29 with nearly 1.5 kilograms of heroin hidden in 491 buttons on 18 dresses.
  • A man in Shiyan, Hubei province, was arrested for taking pictures of a protest rally. He was then sent to a mental hospital. A nurse at the hospital quoted in Chinese media said a second person from the rally also was sent to the hospital.

April 10

  • Lan Shili, former chairman of East Star Airlines and once the richest man in Hubei province, was jailed for evading 50 million yuan (about $7.3 million) in taxes. He had illegally hidden 500 million yuan (about $73 million) from East Star's books.

April 12

  • Police in Qingzhen, Guizhou province, arrested one suspect and seized more than 2 kilograms of heroin in a drug-trafficking investigation. The drugs were transported through Yunnan province, probably from Myanmar.
  • Nine people in Qingdao, Shandong province, were poisoned by chives contaminated with pesticide. A total of 1,950 kilograms of chives were found to be contaminated.
  • A man who ran an illegal fireworks plant that exploded and killed 13 people last year was sentenced to life in prison in Dezhou, Shandong province.
  • Wang Xiaojun, another gang boss arrested in Chongqing's ongoing organized crime crackdown, was sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted of gang-related activities, including prostitution, operating casinos, assault and bribery. Since 2001, Wang's gang pocketed 170 million yuan (about $25 million) in profits.
  • Shanghai announced two new security precautions for the World Expo, which will begin in May. The number of visitors will be limited to 600,000 each day, at which point authorities will cut off transportation to the expo sites. Also, wireless devices other than cell phones and car keys (such as radios and wireless microphones or video devices) will not be allowed.
  • Beijing denied a request by a well-known activist's wife to have her husband released from prison on medical parole. Hu Jia, detained since 2007, was convicted in April 2008 for inciting subversion. He has a serious liver disease that could cause cancer and was taken to the hospital March 30.
  • Three police officers were suspended in Jingzhou, Hubei province, after a detainee was found drowned in a small water basin at a detention center.

April 13

  • Beijing announced it will deploy police to monitor every subway entrance, exit, passageway, platform and checkpoint throughout the city.
  • Shanghai announced it will have security guards on all 42 bus routes that service the World Expo during its run from May 1 to Oct. 31. The city also will crack down on intellectual property infringement.
  • A National People's Congress representative from Fuxin, Liaoning province, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegal gunpowder trafficking. He was convicted of shipping 2.4 tons of gunpowder to illegal mines in the province in 1997.

April 14

  • A Chongqing court sentenced Wen Qiang, a former judge and police official, to death for corruption and involvement in organized crime.
  • Three officials were disciplined in relation to a scandal in which industrial oxygen was passed off as suitable for use in the Chenzhou Children's Hospital in Hunan province. The party secretary at the hospital arranged for Chenzhou Industral Gas, where her husband worked as a lawyer, to supply the hospital. The woman was dismissed from her post, and her husband is being investigated by the police. The director of the hospital also was dismissed.
  • The deputy editor-in-chief of a newspaper in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, was detained by the Discipline Inspection Commission for unknown reasons. In such cases, the cause usually has to do with the paper criticizing the government.
  • An explosion damaged the main building of the Dangyang Public Security Bureau in Hubei province. No one was injured and one man was detained after the incident.
  • China Digital Times leaked documents from Dezhou University in Shandong province that exposed the Domestic Security Department's recruitment of students and professors for intelligence gathering.

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