Despite Beijing’s threat of using stringent laws and harsher punishment against citizens defecting to other countries and/or spilling state secrets, quite a few Chinese people have managed to cross over to the West, bringing sensitive information along with them.
In the latest incident, a potential high-profile defection from China leaves open the possibility of the West getting inside information into one of Beijing’s most advanced hypersonic weapons.
China’s Stringent State Secret Laws
China’s state secret laws cover almost everything starting from industry data, all the way to the exact birth dates of state leaders. Information can even be designated as a state secret retroactively.
There is a wide range of punishments for leaking such sensitive information. In the most serious cases, a life sentence or death penalty can be doled out. For instance, in 2016, a Chinese computer technician named Huang Yu was reportedly sentenced to death for the crime of leaking over 150,000 classified documents to an unnamed foreign power.
Huang worked for a government department that was involved in handling state secrets. The documents he allegedly provided covered subjects ranging from military and financial issues in the country to details about the ruling communist party.
There have been a few other cases of people defecting and successfully handing over information to foreign powers, especially governments in the West.
In February 2016, reports of the most “valuable defector” to flee to the US came out. This person was Ling Wancheng, the brother of Ling Jihua, who had served as the chief of staff to then-President Hu Jintao.
It was reported that Ling Wancheng had revealed details regarding Chinese procedures for launching nuclear weapons, the personal lives of Chinese leaders, and arrangements for their security amongst other things, to US investigators.
In June last year, there were rumors of a high-ranking Chinese spy chief, Dong Jingwei, defecting to the US and giving evidence on the Wuhan lab to Washington. It was then noted that Dong would be the highest-level defector in the history of China if the reports were true.
In November 2021, some leaked papers linked the Xinjiang crackdown on the Uyghurs in China with the Chinese leadership. In the documents, the highest levels of the communist party leadership, including Xi Jinping, called for the re-education and relocation of the Uyghur Muslims.
Now, it is being reported that a senior Chinese scientist has defected to the West.
Technician Who Worked On DF-17 Missile
The British spy agency MI6 allegedly helped a senior Chinese scientist defect to the West, intelligence sources told the UK daily, Express. This Chinese national is reportedly a rocket technician who worked with the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). Here, his job was to help develop a mid-range boost-glide vehicle that would have the capability of carrying the DF-17 missiles to a range of up to 2,000 miles.
Sources revealed that he is also connected with the more recent hypersonic missile delivery system that made headlines after it was able to circle the globe and hit a target.
The reason this scientist, believed to be in his 30s, fled to the West was because he was unhappy about being denied a promotion. Following this, he made contact with a British intelligence asset in Hong Kong last year. He had then revealed that he possessed in-depth information about China’s hypersonic glide vehicle.
The defector demanded that he, along with his wife and his child, be provided asylum since he was aware that China would punish him with the death penalty if the plan was discovered.
After making contact with him, the MI6 deployed a three-person team that consisted of two intelligence officers and a technical specialist to Hong Kong. The US spy agency CIA was kept in the loop.
The Express noted that the investigators were initially worried about the scientist being a Beijing plant. However, during the process of verifying his credentials through a game of “cat-and-mouse”, the scientist began to reveal select details about China’s latest hypersonic development.
Eventually, the escape plan was put in place. It involved the scientist and his family traveling to a former British colony using a special route and being transported to a secure location by the MI6 team from there.
This technician’s escape from China has enabled Britain and the US to accelerate defensive programs against the use of hypersonic missiles. Sources told the Express that it could take China up to two years to tweak its systems and “render this intelligence ineffective”.
It is interesting to note that while the majority of the technical information that was offered by the scientist was carried in his head, he also smuggled out technical data.
This defection event has probably come as a valuable gain to Britain and the US, who have not only been quite concerned about China’s increasing prowess in hypersonic weapons development but have also been plagued by Chinese espionage attempts within their borders.
The EurAsian Times has already reported on how both the MI6 and the CIA have been concerned about Beijing managing to mine out commercial secrets and honeypot intelligence officers while themselves remaining quite protected from espionage and counter-intelligence efforts from the West.