The world is on the “cusp of the golden age” of Chinese espionage in the wake of revelations that around two million Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members are embedded in governments and companies worldwide.
The revelations have spurred one Australian senator to warn that a pledge of loyalty to the CCP conflicts with democratic values, and nations need to take greater steps to safeguard their interests.
Details surrounding the massive database emerged on Sunday revealing a register with information on 1.95 million CCP members including their names, party positions, birthdays, national ID numbers and ethnicity.
It also revealed that 79,000 CCP branches were established worldwide, with some embedded in global corporations, according to Sky News Australia.
Many individuals in the database are employed in U.S., European and Australian companies involved in sensitive industries such as defence, pharmaceuticals (particularly the development of COVID-19 vaccines), and financial services. Some are employed in diplomatic posts and universities.
Around 600 CCP members, some senior executives, work in banking giants HSBC and Standard Chartered.
While aerospace firms Airbus, Boeing, and Rolls-Royce have employed hundreds of CCP members. Boeing had 287 CCP members working for it in 2016 and is also a major defence contractor to the United States and Australian Defence Departments.
U.S. information technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) also had CCP members in its employ. In Australia, HP was recently awarded a $48 million contract to build a “supercomputer” for leading research institute the CSIRO.
Two major pharmaceutical companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca, have employed 69 and 54 CCP members, respectively.
Matt Warren, professor of cybersecurity at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology said the revelations were no surprise and instead, reinforced the view that Beijing had conducted a global infiltration campaign.
“What is of interest is that members of the CCP are working for defence and IT-related companies globally. One can only guess the projects they were working on and the information that has been sent back to China. This is a major security risk,” he told The Epoch Times.
Many of these companies, who may have been unaware of security risks will now need to bolster their safeguards, he said.
South Australian Senator Alex Antic concurred warning that the leak was a reminder that nations and companies needed to be vigilant.
“The Chinese Communist Party operates with few boundaries when it comes to foreign interference,” he told The Epoch Times.
“While it is hardly news that the CCP has agents of influence in Western nations, it is a timely reminder that the CCP, and their soft power body the United Front are alive and well and living among us.”
The United Front Work Department is the CCP’s foremost overseas infiltration body and made headlines in 2017 for its role in the downfall of New South Wales Senator Sam Dastyari.
Joseph Siracusa, adjunct professor at Curtin University and an expert on communist regimes, said the 1.9 million individuals was a list of potential “sleepers” the CCP could approach (or blackmail) to “sell out their government.”
“This is a list that can be manipulated by the Party back home, to call in favours, and to fulfil obligations. That is what is shocking about this discovery,” he told The Epoch Times.
“What does the CCP want with such a list? Why is it tracking these people, and for what reason? That should be the question the parliamentarians are asking,” he said.
“I’d say that we are on the cusp of the golden age of Chinese espionage. This is the golden age. If they want to spy, they have people, and they can probably pressure or blackmail them into doing things they do not want to,” he added.
Australia’s ethnic Chinese community stands at over 1.2 million and accounts for around 5 percent of the total population, according to the 2016 Census.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has accused the CCP of running a targeted campaign to infiltrate overseas Chinese communities.
In recent months, the head of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge have both issued warnings about vulnerabilities in multicultural communities.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also issued repeated warnings around CCP intellectual espionage.
“The Chinese Communist Party is poisoning the well of our higher education institutions for its own ends, and … those actions degrade our freedoms and American national security,” he said at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
In early December, the U.S. State Department announced new visa restrictions on CCP members and their families reducing their B-1 business and B-2 tourist visas to one month from the previous maximum of 10 years.
It follows an October policy alert by the U.S. Immigration Services of existing laws in the United States that banned members of communist parties from entering the country.
A move that Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz said Australia needed to consider closely.
“As these revelations demonstrate, membership of the CCP is far more than a benign networking channel. Members swear an oath of allegiance which states one must ‘be loyal to the Party, fight for communism throughout my life and never betray the Party,’” he told The Epoch Times.
“It is disturbing that anyone would join a party responsible for a litany of human rights abuses, including the imprisonment and forced labour of one million Uyghurs, crushing freedom in Hong Kong, and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea,” he said.
Abetz said despite recent legislative efforts, including the passing of the Foreign Relations Act that will likely see the end of Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative agreement, Australia needed to remain vigilant or risk its good nature being “ruthlessly exploited” by the CCP.