China accuses West of targeting its rare earths and food technology

Children play with a toy gun at a carnival held in Hong Kong to mark China's national security education day
Children play with a toy gun at a carnival held in Hong Kong to mark China's national security education day - LAM YIK/REUTERS

China’s intelligence agency has accused overseas institutions of targeting Chinese rare earths and food industries as part of an ongoing public awareness campaign over the risks posed by foreign spies.

The latest warnings were issued in a documentary on state television to coincide with “national security education day” on Monday, aimed at highlighting espionage methods and recent prosecutions of individuals accused of betraying China.

The country’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has repeatedly cautioned the public to beware of entrapment by foreign intelligence agencies at a time when Western companies operating in China are increasingly wary of prosecution under new anti-espionage laws for business activities that were previously legal.

The documentary’s inclusion of spying cases linked to rare earths reflects the growing global power competition over access to the precious elements that are crucial for drones, quantum computer technology and electric vehicles.

Rare earths are used in a range of technologies to generate cleaner, renewable energy and lie at the centre of the transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy and the fight against climate change.

In one case study outlined by the MSS, an individual identified only by his surname, Cheng, was jailed for 11 and a half years for “illegally providing state secrets” and bribery, reported the South China Morning Post.

Mr Cheng was the deputy manager of an unnamed rare earth company and he allegedly supplied information about government research to a contact working for the Shanghai subsidiary of an unnamed foreign company.

The MSS also sounded the alarm over reported efforts to target Chinese grain production and research that was endangering the country’s food security.

‘Despicable methods’

It claimed that nearly 100 people and 11 companies were involved in this type of activity over the past two years, including the general manager of a Chinese agricultural technology company who was jailed for 18 months for selling patented rice seeds to an “overseas intelligence agency” above the going market rate.

The two-part documentary film aired on Sunday and Monday was created to expose “despicable methods of infiltration, theft and incitement” by foreign intelligence agencies, said the Global Times, reporting that it would focus both on alleged spies and whistleblowers who caught them.

“Through various means such as emotional solicitation, seduction and corruption, financial purchase, and offering help, overseas spies have tried every means to recruit and instigate Chinese officials, researchers and Chinese personnel working overseas, posing a serious threat to China’s national security,” it reported.