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Since their 1949 victory, the Chinese Communist Party has been highly successful in making mainland China a very hard target for foreign espionage. But hitherto, China’s security and intelligence agencies have often endured a lack of interagency coordination, turf battles, and internal corruption.
Under Mao Zedong, they were attacked and dismantled during the Cultural Revolution, taking decades to recover. During China’s corruption crisis of the 1990s and 2000s, intelligence and counterintelligence operations were hobbled by internal graft, leading to high-level penetrations by the CIA’s China Program.
However, Xi Jinping has systematically attacked these problems since his ascent in 2012. His famous anti-corruption drive was partly intended to blunt alleged American efforts to provide cash for their agents within the Chinese state to secure corrupt promotions. Beijing’s drive to regain “information dominance” (制信息权,zhi xinxi quan) over an increasingly fluid, networked, and technologically sophisticated society appears to be broadly successful. Interagency coordination looks more robust under strengthened party oversight by the new Central State Security Commission.
Meanwhile, the intelligence and military reorganization launched in 2015 has resulted in a sharper mission focus by the Ministry of State Security and the intelligence units of the People’s Liberation Army. One sign of the newly aggressive stance overseas by MSS was the capture of their officer, Xu Yanjun, in 2018.
This presentation reviewed these efforts, and what problems still exist. It evaluated the possibility that the 2020s will be a decade of better coordinated and more aggressive espionage operations by Beijing, and the extent to which the increasingly successful surveillance state might expand and grow ever stronger inside China.
This webinar was sponsored by the Institute of World Politics