China’s Fearful Intelligence Culture

Excerpt from “China, The Fearful Intelligence Culture,” By Matthew Brazil

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has placed priority on its intelligence and security operations for almost a century. This core business of the party significantly contributed to the CCP’s 1949 victory and to the maintenance of its current power.

Most recently, the internet and artificial intelligence (AI) have enabled previously unimaginable foreign espionage successes. Yet there are cracks in the façade: unending existential fear about enemies within; fear of being caught between CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s never-ending anti-corruption drive and a culture that still fosters graft; as well as fear of being insufficiently loyal to Xi’s “thought” and to his status as the CCP “core.”

Drawing from Chinese language publications and interviews with former western security officials who had regular contact with their Chinese counterparts, this chapter argues that these are old problems, but under Xi, have become more pronounced than in recent decades. It shows how China’s espionage organs will likely continue to achieve successes in cyber espionage, agent recruitment, and technology theft, but dispassionate intelligence analysis may be hindered by pressure to conform to the party line. Thus, Chinese intelligence culture in the 2020s may sometimes make it difficult for Beijing’s senior leaders to see the forest through the trees.

The above is an excerpt from “China: The Fearful Intelligence Culture”, in Ryan Shaffer, ed. The Handbook of Asian Intelligence Cultures (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, October 2022). This chapter on China has six sections:

  • The Shellshocked Roots of Chinese Communist Intelligence and Security
  • Corruption, Anticorruption, and Power Struggles
  • State Security, Not National Security
  • The Lasting Leftist Influence of Mao Zedong and Kang Sheng
  • Competent Spy Versus Rear Area Ideologue
  • Conclusion: Beijing’s services may be developing a superior understanding of big data compared to their Western counterparts as cyber operations garner an ever greater share of resources. Meanwhile, during the 2020s and 30s the ranks of State Security and military intelligence will fill up with recruits born during and after the 1990s, raised in an era of heightened nationalism and suspicion of foreigners. If the legacy of fear persists while raw data from cyber and other operations keeps piling up, Beijing’s ability to make sense of the outside world and future domestic developments may decline.

The Handbook of Asian Intelligence Cultures has 30 chapters, one for each Asian nation, and can be found on and Amazon.

The above article is also available on LinkedIn here.

Author: mattbrazil_j6jhco

Matt Brazil is the co-author of Chinese Communist Espionage, An Intelligence Primer. He is a contributing editor at and a Research Fellow with the China Program at The Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC. Matt has worked as an industrial security professional, university lecturer, soldier, and diplomat. He is researching a second book on Beijing's espionage apparatus, tentatively entitled China's Secret Wars, from Mao to Now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *