Wanping Zheng, an engineer who was recently charged by the RCMP for illegally using his position at the Canadian Space Agency to help negotiate a satellite deal with Iceland on behalf of a Chinese company, participated in several critical Canadian aerospace projects, according to his company’s website and his LinkedIn profile.
The RCMP said in a statement on Dec. 8 that its investigation led to a charge of “breach of trust” against Zheng, who acted outside of his duties at the federal space agency and helped a Chinese aerospace company negotiate agreements on installing satellite station facilities in Iceland. According to court documents, Zheng’s alleged criminal activities occurred in 2018.
The company Zheng is accused of helping is called Spacety, CBC News reported, founded in 2016 in Changsha, the capital of China’s Hunan Province.
Zheng is the vice president of the company, which specializes in satellite-based commercial services, such as providing high-resolution images of the Earth.
Zheng’s profile on Spacety’s Chinese language website states that he has led “the establishment and implementation of a number of major Canadian national aerospace projects,” while at the Canadian Space Agency. He has also headed large-scale space projects related to “International Space Station, space radar, radar satellite, scientific satellite, and experimental satellite.”
Going by the first name of James on his LinkedIn profile, Zheng noted that he has also “participated in most of the recent Canadian space missions as a technical expert or a manager.”
The police said Zheng’s participation in the deal with Iceland is considered “foreign actor interference.”
“We do consider this to be a matter of foreign actor interference,” RCMP Inspector David Beaudoin, who is in charge of the investigation initiated by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team in Quebec, said last week.
Zheng is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 15.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has repeatedly warned about the increased espionage activities from foreign actors, with China and Russia as two major concerns.
CSIS director David Vigneault said in an annual report published April that in 2020, “CSIS observed espionage and foreign interference activity at levels not seen since the Cold War.”
“In 2020, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other foreign states continued to covertly gather political, economic, and military information in Canada through targeted threat activities in support of their own state development goals,” the report states.
While little is known about Zheng’s case, experts have warned about China’s efforts in courting talent abroad as it seeks to increase its competitiveness.
“Their main goal is to become a world leader in technology and to be competitive with the West,” Akshay Singh, a non-resident research fellow at the Council on International Policy, told CBC News.
But Singh said China does not always conduct its espionage activities through planted spies, but could also involve “non-traditional collection,” in which the participants are ignorant of the true nature of the project.
“You might think that you’ve got a wonderful job offer from [a] country to do some unique research and they might rely on your current knowledge and expertise. You don’t mention it to your employer,” he said.
“You collect a paycheck and you move on, and you don’t realize that perhaps … you’ve been recruited by a foreign government to provide materials or act on their behalf.”