China’s top intelligence agency said Monday that it had detained the head of an overseas consulting agency for working as a spy for the British government to collect Chinese state secrets.
The Chinese Ministry of State Security said it caught a consultant with the surname Huang, who collected China-related intelligence and found personnel on behalf of MI6. The British intelligence agency recruited and trained Huang — who is from an unspecified “third country” — in the United Kingdom and other places, the ministry said in a post on its official WeChat account. The British government equipped the individual with “special spy equipment,” the ministry wrote.
“After meticulous investigation, the national security agency promptly discovered criminal evidence that Huang was engaged in espionage activities, and took criminal coercive measures against Huang in accordance with the law,” the state security ministry wrote.
The post said that Huang provided the British government with 14 state secrets, and three pieces of intelligence. The statement did not specify the company that Huang worked for or the person’s nationality.
While the agency has made allegations of other individuals who had been caught spying for the U.S. government in previous WeChat posts, this is the first time that Beijing has accused the British of espionage in the public forum.
The British Embassy in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment.
The statement came four months after the revelation that a researcher who worked in Britain’s Parliament had been arrested on suspicion of spying for Beijing. The researcher, who has denied that he is a spy, worked with lawmakers on policy matters about China. China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly condemned the assertion that the researcher was part of a growing Chinese spy ring in Britain as “entirely groundless.”
The announcement on Monday by the state security ministry was also the latest sign of China targeting consulting and advisory firms with foreign ties. Last year, there were reports of raids, detainments and arrests at prominent consulting firms including American companies such as the Mintz Group and Bain & Company.
The crackdown seemed to focus on firms that provide hard-to-obtain information that foreign investors use to assess potential business risks in China before an investment. Such information is especially valuable in China, where reliable information is hard to come by.
Changes to China’s counterespionage laws have also broadened the law’s already sweeping definition of what constitutes spying. Foreign businesses expressed concern that they could be targeted for espionage over normal business practices such as gathering information on competitors, markets and industry.
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said the fact that this accused spy came from an industry that China has already deemed problematic makes the accusations of serious espionage less convincing, because people working in such firms are convenient targets.
Whether this person actually has anything to do with the British spy agency will be almost impossible to confirm since MI6 is unlikely to say anything and the Chinese are unlikely to provide additional evidence to bolster its case, he said.
“If the Chinese really have a case, they really have to come up with a bit more either in public or in private with the Brits,” Mr. Tsang said. “If not, it would not be taken too seriously.”
Claire Fu contributed reporting.