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Czech counter-intelligence warns of growing threat of Chinese espionage

Prague, Czech Republic – The head of the counter-intelligence agency of the Czech Republic (BIS) Michal Koudelka didn’t mince his words when he warned, earlier this week, against the threat posed by Chinese espionage activities, the Czech News Agency reported.

During a public hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, Koudelka warned lawmakers of the massive means employed by the Chinese state and intelligence apparatus to deploy and expand espionage activities in countries it considers worthy of interest, including the Czech Republic.

“At present, one can see intelligence activities in all spheres and on all levels, from the amateur up to highly sophisticated ones”, Koudelka stressed, adding: “They operate not only from the place where one can expect this, but also from the positions in various companies, institutions, town halls of big towns, where one can encounter intelligence officers too”.

The counter-intelligence agency had already warned, in its annual report published last December, that Chinese espionage activities, along with the Russian ones, were the most active in the Czech Republic, drawing the ire of President Milos Zeman, known for his pro-Russian and pro-Chinese views.

After years of quietly expanding its foothold in the Czech Republic and increasing its influence in key economic sectors and policy-making, China has been navigating in troubled waters in recent months, hit both by warnings against the alleged threat posed by telecoms giant Huawei and by the outspoken criticism coming from Prague’s City Hall.

Koudelka also warned businesspeople travelling to China, a common and frequent target of espionage from Chinese agencies, which also focus on increasing Beijing’s influence in top-government and strategic economic sectors (energy, telecommunications, transport, banking & finance, high-tech, etc.).

The head of BIS also pointed out that Chinese intelligence agencies heavily rely on the Chinese community living abroad – estimated at roughly 7,500 people in the Czech Republic: “If you [as a Chinese national] have your family back in China, it’s easier to demand your cooperation. If you disagree, you will be blackmailed by pressuring your family”, he told the senators.

The day of his Senate hearing, the Czech cyber-security agency released a report claiming that 90% of cyber attacks in the country come from abroad, once again pointing the finger at China and Russia as the main countries of origin.

That very same day, President Milos Zeman, widely seen as one of the main champions¬†advocating for closer ties with the world’s second-biggest economy, attended a reception organized by the Chinese Embassy in Prague to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and then-Czechoslovakia.