Ganging up on Beijing? Five Eyes intel network now looks at China

The intelligence agencies of the US, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have been cooperating closely on countering China’s “foreign activities” since the start of the year, Reuters reports.

The so-called Five Eyes network is also sharing intelligence with allies such as Germany and Japan, in what has become a multinational coalition against Beijing’s alleged foreign meddling. Washington and its partners have accused China of using foreign investments to pull political strings – an accusation that Beijing denies.

“Consultations with our allies, with like-minded partners, on how to respond to China’s assertive international strategy have been frequent and are gathering momentum,” a US official told Reuters. The unnamed source added that informal discussions on the matter have quickly turned into “detailed consultations on best practices and further opportunities for cooperation.”

The intelligence-sharing network’s new focus on China was prompted, at least in part, by Germany’s decision to prevent a Chinese investment fund’s acquisition of German semiconductor firm Aixtron in 2016. The German government had initially approved the takeover, only to reverse its decision a month later after US officials reportedly “raised security concerns that Berlin had overlooked.”

The incident highlighted the need for greater intelligence sharing to help allies counter China’s alleged foreign influence campaigns, the US official said.

Cooperation has increased significantly in the past few months, with diplomats, intelligence officials and heads of government participating in consultations, according to Reuters.

“We are living in a new world,” another unnamed source who has been consulting with other nations about China said, adding that “the sudden shock from authoritarian regimes” has prompted “a real expansion in intelligence sharing.”

While the Five Eyes has been mainly focused on China, other countries, including Russia, have also been the subject of discussions.

Earlier NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden described the Five Eyes as a “supra-national intelligence organization that does not answer to the known laws of its own countries”.

Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the intelligence network’s members had been snooping on one another’s citizens and sharing the information gathered with each other in order to bypass national laws prohibiting surveillance of citizens.

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