A security agent stands guard near the Great Hall of the People in Beijing's Tiananmen Square as the sun appears through the smog. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj
A security agent stands guard near the Great Hall of the People in Beijing's Tiananmen Square as the sun appears through the smog. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Authorities in China’s central Henan province have named and shamed a military researcher who became a Western spy as an example of what can happen as the country opens up to the world.

Zhang Jianguo, 50, who once led a team developing a “new, cutting-edge weapon” at a military industry research institute in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, was recruited by a foreign agent during a year-long overseas academic trip in 2011, it was revealed during a National Security Day ideological education campaign.

Returning to China, he gave the agent top-secret information on the specifications and deployment of the weapon, but was eventually  caught by Henan’s national security apparatus. Zhang was given a 15-year jail term for espionage and divulging state secrets.

Reports by Henan TV and Henan Daily didn’t specify which country he had spied for, but it was hinted he was recruited by a US agent.

Zhang Jianguo (face blurred) while he was studying at a Western university campus. The photo was released by Zhengzhou National Security Bureau. Photo: Handout
A screen grab of Zhang’s confession in a feature on national security. Photo: Henan TV

A handcuffed and remorseful Zhang recounted his story to Henan TV from prison, saying that he met the agent, who called himself Jack, during an academic event. Later a resourceful friend of Jack offered Zhang a green card residency permit and made an unconditional offer for his daughter to study abroad. “I even got basic espionage training before returning to China,” he added.

The state-controlled Global Times was more forthcoming in its coverage of the “malicious infiltration and silent cloak-and-dagger scheming”  targeting China, which it linked to the nation’s increasing openness.

Citing an intelligence expert at the University of International Relations, the paper said: “With China’s development and opening-up, the threat of espionage is increasing. In addition to military, science and government intelligence, some countries like Japan are also interested in gathering intelligence on Chinese society, natural resources and ordinary people.”

Foreign spies make a beeline to China, operating under the cover of non-government workers, journalists or diplomats, and Chinese citizens are also recruited, said the newspaper. Some inadvertently come into contact with foreign agents, who pry into everything from the design of the latest stealth fighters to security detail of top leaders.

Former CIA agent Jerry Lee pictured (right) at a Christie’s exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Salvator Mundi in Hong Kong in October 2017. Photo: AFP

State media has also sounded the alarm to the hordes of Chinese students and scholars who flock to the US and other Western nations to advance their studies, saying that they must heighten their vigilance and not fall prey to spies and instigators — as otherwise there will be a “hefty price to pay” for betraying their country.

The latest anti-espionage propaganda blitz comes as the US rebuilds its own spy network in China following a damaging betrayal since the Obama presidency that led to the arrests of a number of agents, with some being executed, according to exposes by western newspapers.

In January, former CIA employee John Lee, an American Chinese who had lived in Hong Kong after leaving the intelligence service, was arrested by the US for revealing the operations of some of the agency’s  personnel in China to Beijing authorities.

Read more:

Case of CIA ‘mole’ sheds new light on Hong Kong as spy hub

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