While the spy swap between the U.S. and Russia has dominated headlines, Germany also has an espionage problem. The German federal prosecutor’s office has accused two senior diplomats from Shanghai of spying on members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement for the Ministry of State Security, China’s largest civil intelligence agency.
Falun Gong has been outlawed in China since 1999. Beijing perceives it as a cult and has devoted an agency, known as Office 610, to its global elimination. But Chinese espionage cases are becoming, in general, increasingly common in Germany. In the 2007 “Trojan” incident, Chinese spy software concealed in Microsoft Word documents hacked into German computers and stole information; the hackers were believed to be under the command of the People’s Liberation Army.
Earlier this year, the German Foreign Ministry forced the recall of a Chinese general consul in Munich after he was accused of spying on Uighur expatriates. In fact, the German government has reportedly had to create a special counterintelligence department to address Chinese security breaches. Though the public relationship between the two countries remains cordial, the escalating Cold War-style spy game threatens to tarnish years of diplomacy.