New Delhi: In an unprecedented data leak that resonates globally, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members are known to have infiltrated some of the world’s powerful and influential agencies, including the consulates of Western nations, security agencies, banks, automobile firms, research wings, universities, and even pharmaceutical companies manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines.
The leaked database not only discloses almost two million CCP members – along with their party position, birth date, national identity number and ethnicity – but also 79,000 of their workplaces, across industries and across the world.
The database which dates back to 2016 was reportedly leaked by a person who is critical of China, from a server housed in the British Consulate in Shanghai, the largest city in China and its financial hub.
While it was originally leaked on Telegram, the encrypted instant messaging app, it was shared with the international bipartisan group the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) in September this year. IPAC consists of more than 150 legislators around the world who are concerned by the influence and activities of the Chinese government.
After carrying out checks and authenticating the material with the support of data security analysts, IPAC shared the same with four media organisations across the globe – The Australian, the UK’s The Mail on Sunday, Belgium’s De Standaard and a Swedish editor.
Chinese President and General Secretary of Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping attends the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 28, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Although there is no evidence to prove that the CCP members on the list spied for China, security experts across the globe express concerns that there is a risk of sensitive information getting transferred to Beijing intelligence services.
“Allowing members of the CCP to work for such companies risks their stealing technology, providing intelligence to China on forthcoming weapons systems and capabilities, or on force structures built around those capabilities,” The Australian quoted an intelligence officer as saying.
Given that the database is believed to be leaked from the British Consulate in Shanghai, which also known to witness the activity of intelligence officers from the UK security services, the leak has created a flutter in the UK. The Mail on Sunday reported that 30 British MPs have already come forward to table an “urgent question” on the issue in the House of Commons.
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Former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that the government must act in time to expel members of CCP from the British consulates across China. “They can either serve the UK or the Chinese Communist Party. They cannot do both,” he has been quoted as saying to The Mail on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Foreign Office – the department of the UK government responsible for promoting British interests worldwide – maintained that it had robust procedures in place to keep information secure and to vet staff at its overseas posts. It further noted that it was well aware that they had employed CCP members.
Fears have also reached Whitehall, UK’s administrative headquarters in London, regarding the matter of a consulate official from Shanghai mentioned on the list. He is known to sit in proximity to officials of the MI6 team. MI6 is part of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service. Although officials claim no damage has been done so far, it has certainly raised concerns among UK security experts.
It is further learnt that 249 members mentioned on the list had also signed up with The Shanghai Foreign Agency Service Corporation, a state-owned employment agency, in 2016. The agency claims that it provides “comprehensive and high-quality services to more than 100 foreign organisations in Shanghai including foreign consulates, foreign news media, and foreign schools”.
A global network
Academics on the membership list include some living and working in the UK. They include a research fellow in aerospace engineering at a leading university who also works for a private company. Aerospace engineering is considered one of the seven most militarily sensitive university subjects by the British government.
File photo of United Kingdom Parliament and Whitehall. The flags are flying in half mast in memory of the victims of the attack on Manchester Arena, in London, Britain, May 23, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville
The database has also disclosed that CCP members work for many British and global companies in China, several of whom are involved in defence or pharmaceutical industries.
Firms with defence interests Rolls-Royce, Boeing, Airbus, and the French defence contractor Thales have dozens of CCP members. Hundreds of them are employed with British banking giants HSBC and Standard Chartered. Jaguar Land Rover was another company with staff who were members of the party. The pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca – both involved in the development of coronavirus vaccines – employed a total 123 party loyalists.
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Cosco, a major Chinese shipping firm, even has two branches in the UK for its seven members. Three are based at the port of Felixstowe, Suffolk, which receives almost half of Britain’s container trade.
While some of the companies said that they were aware of CCP members on their payrolls, they said that they had safety measures in place to ensure that sensitive information was protected. None of the CCP members was banned from working with them, they added.
Timing of the leak
That such a data leak comes close on the heels of the US becoming wary of Chinese students and officials, among others, is noteworthy.
Fourteen Chinese nationals were charged for alleged spying offences over a nine-month period up to September 2020. The Donald Trump administration has also recently changed its visa rules to ensure that CCP members and their families can stay or get travel documents for the US only for a month.
Even US director of national security, John Ratcliffe, observed China as the greatest threat to democracy and freedom since the end of World War II, and was striving to dominate the world economically, militarily and technologically.
Australia, for its part, had revoked the visas of two professors from China in September in the wake of suspicions that they were involved in espionage. One of the men appears on the leaked membership list.
However, a Chinese Embassy spokeswoman in the UK appealed to media to shed its “ideological bias and Cold War mentality.”
“We urge the media to abandon ideological bias and Cold War mentality and view China, the Communist Party of China and China’s development in a rational and impartial manner,” the Chinese official has been quoted as saying by The Mail on Sunday.