Usually, Estonia’s counter-intelligence service KAPO is well-known for its high efficiency in catching Russian spies. But this March, Estonia convicted its first spy recruited by the Chinese military intelligence. The marine scientist Tarmo Kõuts, who held both Estonian state and NATO security clearances, was sentenced to three years in prison.
Mr. Puusepp, why are Chinese intelligence agencies interested in European countries as small as Estonia, and what is the Chinese espionage’s modus operandi?
China’s intelligence activity is part of its quest to become a world leader. Beijing is hoping to gain a foothold in European politics and economy, as well as, the technology market. For this, they need to protect their interest in all European countries, regardless of their size. As part of the EU and NATO, and recently also as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the threat posed by Chinese intelligence is a daily growing reality for Estonia.
But it’s not only our membership in international organizations that explains China’s increased activity. Estonia’s geographical location as a transit country between East and West, as well as currently planned infrastructure projects, such as the “Rail Baltica”
that will connect Tallinn with Warsaw, are equally intriguing.
One of the most common strategies we observe are online recruitment attempts of EU citizens by Chinese companies. Public officials and professionals are approached on the internet with lucrative job offers or sponsored foreign trips. Often, they are simply paid for compiling an apparently innocent summary or analysis.
But these companies are not really interested in paying thousands of euros just for a review of some publicly available material. KAPO has reason to believe that Chinese special services are behind most such offers, and that they may lead to a deeper collaborative relationship – involving requests to pass on state secrets or other confidential information.