Chinese spy agency says foreign agents targeting rare earth and food technology sectors

China’s top spy agency has accused overseas institutions of targeting the rare earth sector and food industry in the latest in a series of warnings encouraging the public to be alert to the risk from foreign spies.
The warnings come amid growing concern among foreign investors about the impact of the country’s latest anti-espionage laws that they fear may criminalise previously legal business activities.

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On Sunday, state broadcaster CCTV published a series of claims by the Ministry of State Security about spying cases, including an individual identified only as Cheng, the deputy manager of an unnamed rare earth company, who was jailed for 11 and half years for “illegally providing state secrets” and bribery.

The report said Cheng, who was also fined 100,000 yuan (US$13,800) and had personal property worth 900,000 yuan confiscated, had supplied information about rare earths that the government was collecting to a contact working for the Shanghai subsidiary of an unnamed foreign non-ferrous metals company.

The second individual, identified only as Ye, was also jailed for 11 years last November and had personal property worth 500,000 yuan confiscated after being found guilty by the Nanchang Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangxi province of being “bought off by overseas forces and illegally providing state secrets”.

“In recent years, critical minerals have become a new area of strategic competition between major global powers. As one of the key mineral resources, rare earths not only contribute to high-quality economic development, but are also closely related to national security,” CCTV’s report said.


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Beijing court hands down suspended death sentence to Australian writer Yang Jun for spying

The Ministry of State Security also said foreign spies had stepped up efforts to target Chinese grain production and research, causing “significant harm to the core competitiveness of the country’s rice seed industry and food security”.

It said that in 2022 and 2023 it had found that nearly 100 individuals and 11 companies were involved in this activity.

CCTV reported that in January the general manager of a Chinese agricultural technology company named Zhu had been jailed for 18 months by Hefei Intermediate People’s Court in Anhui province for “providing intelligence to foreign entities illegally”. The report said Zhu, who set up their own export company, had been selling patent rice seeds to an “overseas intelligence agency” at above the going market rate.

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The report was broadcast ahead of Monday’s National Security Education Day, an annual event designed to highlight President Xi Jinping’s concepts of “comprehensive national security” to tackle perceived threats both inside and outside China.

Last year the Chinese authorities unveiled a revised espionage law to cover a wide range of information and data gathering activities. The law has raised concern among foreign investors that previously legal business activities such as cross-border data transfers might fall foul of the new regulations.


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