China charges couple with spying for UK’s MI6

Chinese intelligence claims husband recruited while studying in the United Kingdom, and later brought his wife on board.

Chinese flags and surveillance cameras
China has been increasingly warning its citizens about the dangers of foreign spies trying to extract intelligence [Parker Song/AFP]

China has arrested a married couple accused of spying for Britain.

The Chinese Ministry of State Security, in a statement issued on Monday, said the recruitment of the couple, allegedly by British intelligence agency MI6, remains under investigation. The case is the latest alleged espionage episode to be declared amid rising tension between China and the United Kingdom.

Both of those detained are Chinese citizens and members of unnamed state organisations, the ministry said.

The man, identified only by his surname Wang, was courted by British intelligence starting in 2015, when he was studying in the UK. He was allegedly invited to dinners and events, with MI6 taking advantage of his “strong desire for money”, China said.

British operatives also offered security and used “repeated persuasion, enticement and even coercion” to Wang, who eventually caved in after initially expressing hesitance, according to the ministry.

Wang is said to have then persuaded his wife, identified only by her surname Zhou, to also collect intelligence on behalf of British intelligence. Both allegedly worked at “core” confidential departments in a Chinese state agency.

Spy vs spy

The arrests come amid a series of accusations of high-level espionage that China and Britain, among other European states, have cast at one another.

In January, China announced a similar case in which it said it had unveiled a spy plot involving MI6.

In April, the UK charged two British nationals with providing information to China and breaching the Official Secrets Act between late 2021 and February 2023.

It came on the same day Germany said it arrested three German nationals for handing over technologies with potential military purposes to Chinese intelligence. A day after, Germany also arrested an aide to a far-right member of the European Parliament on suspicion of spying for China.

Last month, Britain charged three men with collecting sensitive information for Hong Kong’s intelligence services. One of the trio, 37-year-old Briton Matthew Trickett, was later found dead under what police called unexplained circumstances.

The Ministry of State Security, which acts as China’s intelligence and secret police agency, has issued increasingly urgent warnings to Chinese citizens against falling victim to foreign agencies and espionage efforts.

The warnings have widened to include the most mundane areas. Aviation enthusiasts have been cautioned against being recruited as “volunteers” who transmit flight data in China to other countries.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies