Alleged Chinese Spy Agents Target U.S. Pro-Democracy Activists

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at alleged Chinese spying and intimidation efforts in the United States, a temporary cease-fire in Sudan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to occupied Ukraine.

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at alleged Chinese spying and intimidation efforts in the United States, a temporary cease-fire in Sudan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to occupied Ukraine.

First there was the Chinese spy balloon. Now it’s a secret Chinese police station with “sinister” intentions. On Monday, the FBI unveiled three cases targeting alleged Chinese spy and intimidation efforts in the United States. The first involves the arrest of two men accused of operating an “illegal overseas police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown on behalf of the Chinese government. Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, both U.S. citizens, were charged with using the facility to track and intimidate Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy activists in the United States. (The station itself, part of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, closed last fall after individuals working there learned of the FBI’s investigation of the premises.)

The second case accuses 34 Chinese national police officers of working to silence dissidents in the United States. All 34 individuals are believed to be currently living in China, and none of them have been apprehended yet. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the accused are part of the 912 Special Project Working Group, which aims to positively influence public perception of China by having members pose as Americans on social media and post pro-Chinese Communist Party information. A few of the individuals were also accused of issuing death threats against Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy activists in the United States.

Finally, the third case builds on a December 2020 criminal complaint alleging that a China-based Zoom employee worked with the Ministry of Public Security to spy on Zoom meetings on topics China considers sensitive, including meetings commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Beijing has rejected the Justice Department’s claims, calling the FBI’s investigation “political manipulation” and a “slander and smear campaign.” These arrests and unsealed cases are just the latest in a series of federal prosecutions focused on stopping Chinese intimidation tactics in recent years. “This is a blatant violation of our national sovereignty,” said Michael Driscoll, who leads the FBI’s New York field office.

However, China has been waging a spy war for decades, one Washington failed to recognize before it was too late, historian Calder Walton argues in Foreign Policy. And arrests like these may not be enough to stem the tide. “Relax,” Walton writes, “it’s much worse than you think.”

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Khartoum cease-fire. Sudanese civilians are hoping for a brief moment of respite. On Tuesday, the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire after four days of heavy fighting and more than 180 deaths. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Gens. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemeti) separately to negotiate the reprieve. Millions of people in the capital have been left hiding in their homes while artillery and airstrikes target residential neighborhoods.

Civilians aren’t the only ones caught in the crossfire. Fighters reportedly attacked a U.S. Embassy convoy as well as assaulted the European Union’s ambassador to Sudan in his home on Monday. It’s unclear as of now which side was responsible for these attacks.

Surprise visitor. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited occupied Ukrainian territory this weekend to hear reports from military commanders. Video of a speech he gave indicates he traveled to the Kherson and Luhansk regions sometime before Orthodox Easter, although the exact date is still unclear. This trip into Ukraine, though rare, is not Putin’s first. Last month, the Russian leader traveled to Mariupol in a surprise visit. The coastal city was a key battleground and home to a Russian theater bombing that killed at least 300 civilians in March 2022.

Saied cracks down. Tunisian officials arrested four opposition leaders on Monday—including Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Ennahdha party, a democratic Islamist movement that once dominated Tunisia’s parliament. Although Tunisia began transitioning to democracy following the 2011 revolution that saw the toppling of longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the current president, Kais Saied, has systematically undermined the North African country’s fledgling democratic institutions since his election in 2019. Saied has a long history of targeting political dissidents as the nation’s economy has ticked toward implosion.

With Beijing’s increasingly assertive military actions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, many U.S. government officials and Indo-Pacific experts worry of an impending Chinese invasion of the island. This includes CIA director William Burns, who predicted that China would invade Taiwan by 2027. But not everyone is so convinced. More than 72 percent of international relations scholars at U.S. colleges and universities polled by William & Mary’s Teaching, Research, and International Policy project do not believe China will use military force against Taiwan in the next year. To dive deeper into what the likelihood of a war over Taiwan is, check out what the experts have to say.

Imagine losing an art contest to a robot. For contestants in the creative open category of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards, they don’t need to imagine it. German artist Boris Eldagsen submitted a photograph created by artificial intelligence to this year’s competition—and won. Eldagsen wrote on his personal website that he “applied as a cheeky monkey” to see “if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not.” He has refused to accept the award and has suggested the prize be donated to a photo festival in Odesa, Ukraine.

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