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Alleged Chinese spy ‘held key roles’ in overseas democracy groups

China flag. (Unsplash)
April 30, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A European parliamentary aide arrested in Germany for spying for China was a familiar presence in the overseas pro-democracy movement, had visited the Dalai Lama, and was well-placed to convey sensitive information back to Beijing, activists told Radio Free Asia in recent interviews.

German citizen Guo Jian, who has since been suspended from his job as an aide for far-right Member of the European Parliament Maximilian Krah, was arrested Monday by police in Dresden. 

Federal prosecutors said he was working for a Chinese intelligence agency, and that he repeatedly passed the agency information on European Parliament negotiations and decisions in January.

Guo, remanded in custody pending a possible indictment, is also accused of spying on Chinese dissidents and overseas activists in Germany.

The case has once more highlighted concerns over Beijing’s “long-arm” enforcement of its laws and directives around the world, and its ongoing suppression of overseas dissidents and democracy activists via secret police stationsoverseas activities by its intelligence agents and a network of “consular volunteers.”

Easy access

One prominent overseas democracy activist told RFA Cantonese she knew Guo personally, and had seen him at a number of their events in recent years.

Canada-based writer and activist Sheng Xue said she has met Guo several times at pro-democracy events, where she noticed he didn’t say much, but spent most of the time observing.

“It was easy for Guo Jian to gain access to these circles where he was hoping to obtain information,” Sheng said. “He was a director of the Federation for a Democratic China and the secretary-general of the China Republican Party, so he knew all of the details of the people who attended their meetings.”

“It’s entirely likely that he gave all of that to the Chinese Communist Party … to harm these groups of anti-communists and their effectiveness,” she said.

Germany-based rights activist and journalist Su Yutong also said via her X account that Guo had held those posts in the two organizations.

“Guo Jian has been active in the Chinese democratic circle in Germany,” Su wrote in a tweet on April 23. “He has served as a director of the German branch of the Federation for a Democratic China, and as secretary general of an organization called the China Republican Party.”

“In short, people in the democracy movement trusted him a great deal,” she said. “Many well-known democrats have participated in the meetings he helped to prepare.”

Su said Guo had also been “close to Tibetan organizations” and had led a group of people to visit Dharamsala and meet the Dalai Lama, sharing a photo from the trip.

Meeting the Dalai Lama

An account of the 2018 visit penned by Guo was still visible on the official Chinese-language website of the Tibetan government-in-exile on Thursday, confirming Su’s claim, along with the same photo she shared of Guo with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

In the article, endorsed by the Central Tibetan Administration’s European Liaison Office, Guo describes his visit as “a democratic learning journey,” and says “democracy activists must communicate more with Tibetans and learn about their democratic achievements.”

Sheng said Guo’s arrest highlights just how global a reach Beijing has achieved, when it comes to targeting dissidents and activists overseas.

“The Chinese Communist Party has put huge effort into bribing and infiltrating the politics, economy, media and academic life of various countries,” she said.

Germany-based political commentator Cheng Shih-kuang, who is of Taiwanese descent, said Germany is only just realizing just how many moles there are in the country, working for intelligence agencies in China.

“We have seen how Guo Jian was able to lurk within the pro-democracy movement,” Cheng said. “He is a mole for Red China, spying for the Chinese Communist Party.”

German citizen

Guo became a German citizen in 2011, and had offered his services as an informant 10 years ago to German intelligence, which rejected him due to concerns about his trustworthiness.

His arrest came as British police charged two men with spying for China, including one reported to have worked as a researcher in Britain’s parliament for a prominent lawmaker in the governing Conservative Party.

The two men, aged 32 and 29, were charged with providing prejudicial information to China in breach of the Official Secrets Act. They will appear in court on Friday.

China on Tuesday dismissed the European accusations of spying as “hype aimed at smearing China,”  

“Not just in Germany, we also noted reports in the UK in the past few days,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing in Beijing. 

“We urge the relevant parties to stop spreading disinformation about the so-called “China spy threat” and to stop their political manipulation and malicious smears against China,” Wang said.

But German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said that if the allegations are proven, then people need to be careful whom they hire in future.

“If it is confirmed that someone is spying for Chinese intelligence agencies from within the European Parliament, then this is an attack from within the European democratic system,” Faeser said via her X account. 

German prosecutors on Monday also accused three people of providing information to Chinese intelligence that could have a military purpose.

The allegations came as U.K.-based Hong Kong activist Simon Cheng said he was followed on April 9 by unidentified people who spoke Mandarin, then pretended they didn’t and swiftly left when confronted by him and his companions at London’s prestigious Inner Temple legal quarter.

Cheng told RFA Cantonese in a recent interview that he and his friends moved seats three times in a cafe to prevent being overheard, and each time, the two people moved closer again.

He said he later informed the police of the incident, which he linked to the recent passage of the Article 23 national security law in Hong Kong, which the authorities have vowed to use to target overseas activists and dissidents deemed to be “fugitives” from Hong Kong.

“After Article 23 passed, the Secretary for Security told the media that their primary enforcement targets were ‘overseas absconders’,” Cheng said. “I get a very clear sense that the monitoring of my activities in the U.K. has been upgraded and tightened up since the passage of Article 23.”

“They are now testing how far the Chinese Communist Party can go in its overseas suppression [of dissent],” he said.