Intelligence service: From 2021, China embassy more personalized in tactics

Chinese embassy building in Tallinn.
Chinese embassy building in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The embassy of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has amassed Estonian citizens' and residents' email addresses, with a view to utilizing them in its latest propaganda efforts, the Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet) says ahead of the imminent publication of its latest yearbook.

Whereas the PRC had previously pursued a broader "Wolf Warrior" strategy, named after a popular movie, as of last year efforts became more focused, both on individuals, such as several MEPs, and on states, such as Lithuania, the Foreign Intelligence Service adds.

In its 2022 yearbook, the agency says Beijing has not limited itself to verbal threats, but is also prepared to disproportionately escalate conflict situations, giving the example of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The yearbook reads that: "For instance, Beijing demanded the prosecution of two members of parliament from Denmark for assisting a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, plus two people who had been critical of the PRC."

"Taking the threat seriously, the Danish security service advised these individuals not to travel to the PRC or to states friendly to Beijing, whose authorities might arrest and extradite the individuals to the PRC, at the latter's behest," the yearbook adds.

Personalizing tactics were exemplified by the unprecedented sanctions which Beijing imposed on four organizations in EU member states, along with 10 individuals – five of them MEPs, three of them MPs sitting in domestic legislatures, and the remaining two China experts, the foreign service goes on.

The Foreign Intelligence Service also referenced a regular, fortnightly email sent from the Chinese embassy in Tallinn, entitled "China Watch".

"Against this background, it is not surprising that the propaganda publication 'China Watch' is being sent to a wide range of personal e-mail addresses from the Chinese Embassy in Estonia," the yearbook states.

From spring 2018, China deployed "wolf warfare diplomacy", the Foreign Intelligence Service says, referring the 2017 Chinese action movie "Wolf Warrior 2".

At the same time, opinion polls in the west have shown that China's public image has deteriorated over the past few years, hence the switch to the more tailored approach outlined above.

A highly considered media campaign will continue to be key in Beijing's strategic goals, the Foreign Intelligence Service added, noting that a more personalized approach is done with the aim not only of silencing the author of the criticism but also of implying that China's outrage derives solely from one particular individual or group of people, and is not directed against foreign countries or individuals more broadly.

Foreign Intelligence Service director Mikk Marran gave the concrete example of Lithuania whose opening of a Republic of China (ROC) – i.e. Taiwanese - diplomatic representation in Vilnius has led to a robust response from Beijing, he said.

"What we are seeing is an attempt to punish Lithuania, which is very frightening. China will probably want to mae Lithuania a textbook example of what can happen to those countries that act against Beijing's interests," Marran told ERR on Tuesday.

PRC sanctions on imports of Lithuanian products have most recently extended to beef, the English-language portal of Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reports.

Last December, Estonia's foreign ministry called Beijing's pressure on Lithuania over the establishment of the ROC embassy in Vilnius "unacceptable".


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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