In a plot twist worthy of a spy thriller, China’s covert operation to sway European politics just hit a wall. The story unfolds with Chinese spies attempting to play puppeteer with European politics, using a far-right Belgian politician as their marionette. This saga, more tangled than headphones in your pocket, reveals the lengths to which Beijing goes to shape global narratives in its favor.
The spy who came in from the cold
Enter Daniel Woo, a crafty operative from China’s Ministry of State Security. His mission: to steer European discourse on sensitive topics like Hong Kong’s democracy and the Uyghur situation in Xinjiang. Woo’s chess piece on this board was Frank Creyelman, a former Belgian senator, whose political strings he tried to pull to influence discussions in Europe.
Woo’s strategy had all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. He attempted to sway two European Parliament members to publicly accuse the US and UK of sabotaging European energy security. Text messages between Woo and Creyelman, obtained from a western security source, reveal a brazen attempt to drive a wedge between the US and Europe. The plot thickens as Woo’s directives included attacking Adrian Zenz, a researcher exposing the Uyghur crisis, and even meddling in a conference on Taiwan.
A tangled web of espionage
Woo operated from the Zhejiang branch of the MSS, which seems to have a special interest in European operations. This case showcases the autonomy that regional MSS branches have in executing their missions, a hallmark of Chinese intelligence strategy. Woo’s approach? Co-opt sympathetic lower-ranking politicians who can whisper in the ears of the higher-ups.
But here’s the catch: Creyelman’s attempts to carry out Woo’s bidding were about as successful as a screen door on a submarine. He hit a brick wall trying to oppose a Belgian parliament resolution about the Uyghur genocide risk and couldn’t even get an article published against the Hong Kong protests.
Meanwhile, Woo’s efforts to influence Europe’s political landscape reflect China’s broader agenda. It’s not just about gathering intelligence; it’s about crafting a narrative that suits Beijing’s interests. But as this failed operation shows, sometimes even the best-laid plans of mice and men (or spies) go awry.
Moreover, this espionage fiasco underscores the complexity and risks inherent in international espionage. The MSS’s operation in Europe, particularly in Brussels, a hub teeming with international organizations like the European Commission and NATO, highlights the city’s appeal as an espionage hotspot. Notably, Belgium’s limited security resources make it an attractive playground for foreign intelligence activities. The operation’s exposure not only reveals the ambitious reach of China’s intelligence network but also signals a growing concern for European security agencies.
So, what’s the takeaway from this cloak-and-dagger escapade? It’s a stark reminder that the game of international espionage and influence is alive and well. It’s a world where countries like China are willing to pull out all the stops to shape global opinion in their favor. But as this failed operation shows, sometimes the spy game can backfire, leaving the players exposed and their strategies in shambles.