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Did a top Chinese intelligence official defect to US? Rumours grow, but China has a ‘counter’

Questions on whereabouts of Dong Jingwei are fuelling rumours that he defected to US in February. Reports also say matter was raised in US-China summit in Alaska this March.

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New Delhi: A top-ranking Chinese official Dong Jingwei is rumoured to have defected to the US with his daughter Dong Yang via Hong Kong in February, and handed over evidence to the Joe Biden administration on the alleged Wuhan lab leak that led the US to put a renewed focus on investigating the origin of coronavirus.

Dong is the vice minister of State Security in China’s Ministry of State Security, also called Guoanbu, which is basically their spy agency. He has been heading counterintelligence operations there since April 2018.

News of Dong’s alleged defection came to light with rumours on his whereabouts growing on Chinese social media platforms. However, reports in Chinese media on 18 June claimed Dong had addressed a symposium on counterintelligence, warning Chinese agents to watch out for insiders working with ‘anti-China forces’.

Talk of Dong’s defection began with a tweet by Han Lianchao, a former Chinese foreign ministry official who is now a pro-democracy activist in the US. He had stated that Dong had defected.

Han, who runs Citizen Power Initiatives for China in Washington and had defected to the US after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, has also claimed that Dong’s defection was raised during the meeting that took place between US and Chinese officials in Alaska in March.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NSA Jake Sullivan had met China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The US had apparently turned down China’s request to handover Dong.

According to SpyTalk newsletter, which first reported Dong’s alleged defection Friday, if the rumours are true, then it would be the highest level defection in China’s history.

SpyTalk is a newsletter on US intelligence and foreign policy on the Substack platform.

Nicholas Eftimiades, a former Pentagon, State Department and CIA expert, reportedly said, it is “impossible” to verify the claims made by Han and that such rumours “happen all the time.”

Earlier this month, a pro-Donald Trump website Red State had claimed that a top Chinese official has defected to the US without naming Dong. The 4 June report also claimed the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) has received the information that Beijing was whitewashing biological warfare research at the Wuhan lab.

According to a second Red State report published on 17 June, Dong is believed to be in the DIA’s custody at present.

“Not only does Dong have detailed information about China’s special weapons systems, the Chinese military’s operation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and the Chinese government’s assets and sources within the United States; Dong has extremely embarrassing and damaging information about our intelligence community and government officials in the ‘terabytes of data’ he’s provided to the DIA,” the report said.


Also read: Biden’s US is done engaging with China. This is what India should do now


Dong still in China?

While rumours about Dong’s defection are flying high, according to a news website backed by the Chinese Communist Party, Dong addressed a seminar on 18 June where he spoke about “traitors” within the system who are working with foreign forces.

“On the morning of June 18, 2021, Vice Minister Dong Jingwei of the Ministry of National Security hosted a symposium to study and implement the ‘Regulations on Anti-espionage Security Work’ that came into effect on April 26 this year, and make arrangements for anti-espionage work,” the report said.

It added, “The symposium pointed out that the Party Central Committee attaches great importance to national security work and has made a series of important decisions and arrangements for counter-espionage work. As the competent authority for counter-espionage work, the Ministry of National Security has formulated and promulgated regulations that are a realistic need to prevent, stop, and crack down on illegal and criminal activities that endanger national security in accordance with the law, which are conducive to further compacting the responsibility of counter-espionage security prevention and better organizing and mobilizing all social forces Fight the ‘People’s War’ against espionage.”

While it was not clear where exactly the symposium took place, there were wide-ranging discussions that were held there on “infiltration and stealing activities of foreign spies and intelligence agencies and various hostile forces have obviously intensified”.

“In particular, some individuals are willing to be ‘internal traitors’, secretly colluding with foreign spies and intelligence agencies and hostile forces to engage in anti-China activities. Individuals act as ‘behind the scenes’ and send funds to hostile forces through illegal channels to support anti-China activities. These ‘traitors’ and ‘behind-the-scenes gold masters’ have seriously endangered the country’s political security and will eventually be nailed to the pillar of shame in history,” it said.

The report also stated, “National security organs must adhere to the overall national security concept, take the implementation of the regulations as an opportunity, carry out in-depth anti-espionage work, and unswervingly safeguard national security.”

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)


Also read: Xi Jinping asks US, allies to avoid ‘bossing others around’, warns against decoupling


 

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