The Chinese government collects data from foreign journalists and scientists on a large scale. In particular, the government looks at messages they post on social media such as Facebook and Twitter on topics such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. The findings are shared with government agencies, the military and the police.
The Washington Post writes that based on its own research.
‘Responsibility to defend Chinese government abroad’
The American newspaper has seen more than 300 contracts and agreements from Chinese technology companies. These companies develop software to collect data from Western targets. One of the software packages looks at what journalists and academics write on social media. Another program analyzes conversations about Hong Kong and Taiwan. Yet another analysis program charts discussions about the Uyghurs, a minority group oppressed by the Chinese government.
According to The Washington Post, Xi Jinping’s government wants these surveillance programs to strengthen and refine Chinese government propaganda abroad. At the same time, the spy software acts as an alert system to warn the government if its interests may be at stake.
“It shows that the government sees it as its responsibility to defend China abroad and influence public opinion beyond its borders,” Mareike Ohlberg told the newspaper. Ohlberg has been investigating for years how the Chinese government tries to influence its opinion network in its own country.
China monitors Western targets 24/7
A portion of the budget is set aside by the Chinese government to buy social media accounts for the police, military and propaganda departments of government agencies. The government is also investing in IT projects and surveillance software that cost hundreds of thousands of euros and are monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by English-speaking experts.
The Washington Post was unable to access the data collected and analyzed by the spy programs. The paper, on the other hand, spoke to four people directly involved in influencing public opinion abroad. In addition, the insiders know everything about the development of software systems that collect messages on Facebook and Twitter in real-time and store them on Chinese servers for analysis.
“Our API [Application Programming Interface, ed.] only provides real-time access to public data and Tweets, not private information. We prohibit the use of our API for surveillance purposes, as stated in our policy and developer terms,” a Twitter spokeswoman told the American newspaper. Facebook and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the story.
Chinese government espionage practices
It is not the first time that China has been linked to espionage practices in Europe and beyond. In September 2020, it was revealed that Zhenhua Data from China’s Shenzen Province maintains a comprehensive database of prominent foreign individuals.
The database contains information on more than 2.4 million people, including journalists, lawyers, accountants and pop stars. In addition to names, the database also includes things like birth dates, home and work addresses, career careers, bank account numbers, photos, social media posts, and complete psychological reports.
Analysis showed that there are more than 700 Dutch people in the database. Several key figures and former employees from politics, business, the Royal House and show business were mentioned. The Chinese database also contained information about their partners, children and other relatives.
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