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Chinese general discusses spies, government stays silent

By Steven Jiang, CNN
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China's espionage woes
  • Maj. Gen. Jin Yinan's remarks apparently filmed at a corporate event in March
  • The video, published on the internet, presented eight major espionage cases
  • Jin said a former Chinese ambassador spied for country where he was assigned
  • The clip has been removed from major video-sharing sites in China

Beijing (CNN) -- China remained quiet Tuesday as a recently leaked video of a Chinese general's candid remarks -- apparently made at a corporate event in March -- on sensitive spying cases continued to draw international attention.

The ministries of defense and foreign affairs have not responded to CNN's inquiries, and numerous phone calls to National Defense University, where the general -- Maj. Gen. Jin Yinan -- teaches, went unanswered. State media made no mention of the story.

In a clip found on YouTube and smaller video-sharing sites, Jin -- with the help of slides -- presented eight major espionage cases. While some cases had been publicized, others had never been revealed or discussed in detail before, especially those involving senior officers of the normally secretive People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Jin talked about Senior Col. Xu Junping, who once directed the American and Oceanic department of the defense ministry's foreign affairs office but defected to the United States in 2000. Jin said Xu was extremely close to China's top military brass.

Looking around the world, where else could you find a country's ambassador spying for another country?
--Maj. Gen. Jin Yinan
  • China

"What he gave the Americans was not the number of missiles we had or some other technical details, he told them about the personalities of our leaders and their decision-making habits and processes," Jin said. "These were key intelligence."

Jin said another senior colonel, Wang Qingqian, was caught spying for Japan while serving as a military liaison officer at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo. Wang installed bugs in the offices of the ambassador and the military attaché, Jin said, and opened embassy windows periodically to allow Japanese remote-surveillance equipment to peek inside.

Wang was convicted of revealing military secrets to Japan by a court martial in 2007 and received a suspended death sentence, according to Japanese media. The case went largely unreported in China.

While Jin's remarks may reflect the PLA's growing concern over penetration by foreign spy agencies, analysts say there is also internal politics at play.

"The Chinese military is an interest group just like militaries in other countries," said Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based military analyst who edits the Kanwa Asian Defense magazine. "He was trying to build a case for increasing outside threat, increasing spying threat so the PLA would receive more support and budget from the top leadership."

The biggest scandal in Jin's presentation was a civilian case involving a former senior diplomat who was later found to be providing intelligence to a foreign country where he was once assigned.

"Looking around the world, where else could you find a country's ambassador spying for another country?" Jin asked aloud. "Only in our country."

Another episode centered on Kang Rixin, one of the highest-ranking officials caught for spying, Jin said. Kang, who headed the state nuclear industry group, was once a member of the Communist Party's powerful Central Committee and its disciplinary arm.

When Kang was arrested last year, Jin said China's top leader was jolted into action, ordering a thorough inspection of the entire ruling elite.

"The (Communist Party) Secretary-General said we would spare no one in this investigation," Jin said.

He added that, as in the diplomat case, Kang was convicted of economic crimes -- rather than espionage -- to avoid embarrassing the government. Kang received a life sentence for taking bribes.

Other cases Jin mentioned included a senior military officer accused of selling intelligence after being passed over for a promotion; a high-level official executed for long-time spying for Taiwan; another official caught years after he passed sensitive documents to the British during bilateral negotiations over the status of Hong Kong; and a government think-tank scholar who simultaneously worked for five foreign intelligence services for money.

"After decades of economic reforms, we are witnessing the lack of ideological strength and the breaching of our 'spiritual dam' leading to this recent round of betrayal," he warned.

Jin appeared to be addressing employees of China Life, one of the country's largest insurance companies. The corporate logo was prominently displayed in the background and he was introduced by a company vice president. Local news reports indicated the event took place on March 17 this year.

While most of the 2.5-hour lecture focused on the rise of China thanks to the ruling Communist Party's early struggles and recent achievements, the 10-minute portion toward the end on the espionage cases has aroused the most public and media interest.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the clip had been removed from major video-sharing sites in China but could still be found on some local social media pages as well as many overseas sites. User comments on the lecture appeared intact on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.