China imposes strict anti-espionage measures on staff visiting New Zealand, Five Eyes nations

Strict anti-espionage measures have been imposed on Chinese staff from companies considered "high-risk" of being exploited when visiting Five Eyes nations.  

China rolled out the new anti-espionage regulations on Monday, according to the Global Times, a state-backed newspaper under the auspices of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. 

China's Ministry of State Security, often dubbed "secret police", has listed companies and organisations considered at-risk of foreign infiltration and will require them to adopt strict new security measures. 

The list is unknown, but according to the Global Times, it will be "drawn up based on the level of confidentiality that the industry involves, the degree of foreign involvement and whether there have been previous incidents that endangered national security". 

A staff member in charge of foreign affairs at a state-owned enterprise in Beijing told the Global Times under anonymity that staff travelling to the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group of countries - the United States, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - will be under close watch. 

He said staff travelling to those countries "have been told to strictly report their travel destinations, agendas, and meetings with foreign personnel, and they must get approval from their direct superiors before the applications are reviewed by the headquarters". 

"Pre-departure spying education" through seminars and short films showing examples of foreign intelligence work are shown to the staff ahead of their trips, the anonymous source said. 

He said the company has required staff involved in "sensitive fields or those holding important files" to leave their electronic devices at home and bring new ones abroad. 

The new regulations will also require staff travelling abroad to sign letters of commitment to China before taking up posts, report their activities related to national security, and be interviewed upon their return to China. 

New Zealand itself is vulnerable to espionage. The NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) recently released its de-classified annual report, showing that in the past year a Kiwi was found to be "working on behalf of a foreign state intelligence service". 

It also found that another individual "closely connected to a foreign state's interference apparatus" has been targeting New Zealand political and economic elites to form relationships with them on behalf of that foreign government. 

The recently released Arotake Report, which analysed NZSIS decision-making processes prior to the March 15 mosques attack, notes that since December 2018, combatting foreign interference has been a top priority. 

China's influence in New Zealand was highlighted in 2018 when former MP Jami-Lee Ross claimed then-National Party leader Simon Bridges asked him to break up a $100,000 donation from businessman Zhang Yikun. 

Ross himself is facing fraud charges, alongside Zhang Yikun and two other businessmen. The case concerns two $100,000 donations to National that the Serious Fraud Office alleges were broken up into smaller chunks to get under disclosure thresholds. 

According to Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady, a specialist on Chinese domestic and foreign policy, reference to "foreign interference" in New Zealand "almost always" relates to China. 

She warned MPs in 2019 about Chinese President Xi Jinping's "foreign influence campaign", described as the United Front, to bring the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand "under control". 

Brady's research on China was published in her 2017 paper Magic Weapons, which she believes prompted the burglary of her property in December that year.

China's beefed-up anti-espionage law comes amid tension over the Five Eye's strained relationship with China, and New Zealand's decision to step back from criticising China - its largest trading partner - as part of the alliance. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said last week the Government is "uncomfortable" with expanding the scope of the Five Eyes beyond intelligence sharing, which is what it was originally created for. 

While Mahuta has insisted New Zealand respects the Five Eyes and intends to remain part of the bloc, it hasn't stopped commentators from across the group speculating that New Zealand has sold its soul to China for economic gain. 

Mahuta told Newshub Nation New Zealand must be "respectful, consistent, and predictable" in its dealings with China, but not be afraid to speak up on "things which New Zealand and China do not, cannot, and will not, agree".