Zhang Jianguo, 50, is an expert who worked for a military industry research institute in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, conducting crucial research into advanced weaponry. In 2017, he was convicted of espionage.
In 2011, the institute offered Zhang the opportunity to pay an academic visit to a Western country, where he got to know a man called "Jack" at an academic event. Jack, who was a spy from that country, would end up recruiting Zhang to provide intelligence on China's military industry.
Zhang's story was released by Henan TV and Dahe Bao, a newspaper under the Henan Daily, as a typical case study in national security education on April 15, which is China's National Security Education Day. The report doesn't clarify which Western country was involved, but refers to it in the story as "M Guo" [the Chinese for the US is 'Mei Guo'].
The deputy head of Zhengzhou State Security Bureau, surnamed Wang, said in the report that "the research area that Zhang was involved in is crucial and can be used in future weapons development. China plays a leading role in the world in this area, and that's why foreign intelligence agencies were targeting Zhang."
Initially, Jack told Zhang that he was in charge of certain military industry projects in "M Guo," and at the same time plied him with presents, including electronic digital products installed with spyware. Later, Jack began receiving sensitive intelligence from Zhang through a "paid consultancy service," through which vast amounts of money were channeled.
Into the trap
Before Zhang completed his year-long academic visit to "M Guo," Zhang told Jack he wanted his daughter to study abroad, and was soon introduced to a man named "Calvin." Zhang was told that Calvin was a man with significant resources, and it would be easy for him to arrange for his daughter to study in this Western country. Calvin even offered Zhang a green card.
"This is very usual practice in espionage. Spies will offer the target something he or she desperately wants, and when the target starts to rely solely on these spies, they dominate the relationship," a retired officer who served in a state security organization surnamed Shu told the Global Times.
"If the target wants to send his or her children to study abroad, Western countries' spy agencies can offer anything you can imagine, including references from noted professors, scholarships, certificates of language skill and even an unconditional offer," Shu said. "This kind of practice is normally used by Western countries with attractive educational resources, such as the US, the UK, Australia and Canada."
On October 2012, Zhang and Calvin met privately in a hotel, where Calvin told Zhang that he worked for the intelligence services and asked Zhang if he wanted to work together with them. Zhang was worried, but thinking of his daughter's future, asked for time to consider the offer.
Zhang sought advice from Jack, who persuaded him by telling him that a man should take responsibility for his family.
It was at this moment that Zhang decided to betray his country. Before coming back to China, he received simple spy training from Calvin and Jack. A handcuffed and penitent Zhang recounted his story to Henan TV from prison.
Protect and prevent
"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," said an anonymous expert on security and intelligence at the Beijing-based University of International Relations.
"The threat of espionage not only exists abroad. Foreign spies will also come to China to carry out their missions, under a variety of identities such as NGO workers, journalists or diplomats. Sometimes, they hire Chinese citizens to serve them," Shu said.
"In recent years, some countries have been increasing their efforts in espionage by sending many unprofessional personnel to gather intelligence, but these efforts are generally useless, as China's political and legal systems have clear advantages in counter-espionage," said the anonymous expert.
It's not only governmental officials, military personnel and scientists who need to be careful, Chinese students who study abroad are also being targeted by Western countries' spies, Shu noted. "Foreign spy agencies often target Chinese students with important family backgrounds."