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4 Sep, 2023 07:44

US concerned over Chinese ‘tourists’ at military bases – WSJ

Beijing has dismissed claims of potential espionage as “ill-intentioned fabrications”
US concerned over Chinese ‘tourists’ at military bases – WSJ

Chinese nationals have tried to gain access to US government sites as many as 100 times in recent years, leading American officials to believe that the individuals, who often claim to be tourists, are actually spies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing sources. Beijing has denied that it engages in espionage activities against the US.

According to US officials interviewed by the outlet, the Chinese “gate-crashers,” who often find themselves near off-limits American facilities, have included people who have walked onto a missile range in New Mexico and scuba-dived near a missile launch site in Florida.

Some of these incidents appear to be “benign,” with Chinese tourists explaining that they just followed Google Maps to eat at a nearby McDonalds or another fast-food restaurant which happens to be on a military base, the report says. However, according to US officials, some other incursions are “more troubling” because they occur in areas with little tourism.

When Chinese nationals are caught “apparently deliberately” trespassing on bases, they are usually briefly detained and then escorted off the premises, unnamed US officials told the paper. However, according to Sue Gough, a Pentagon spokeswoman, in some cases individuals entered US bases “by speeding through security checkpoints,” after which they are “often cited criminally [and] barred from future installation access.”

US officials claim that Chinese nationals often use what seems to be “scripted language” when confronted by security, insisting that they are tourists and have lost their way.

In comments to the WSJ, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, dismissed allegations of potential espionage as “purely ill-intentioned fabrications” and urged the US to “abandon the Cold War mentality,” to “stop groundless accusations,” and instead focus on forging better relations between the two powers.

Ties between Washington and Beijing have already been strained by espionage concerns after the US shot down a Chinese balloon over North America in early February, saying it had attempted “to surveil strategic sites.” China insisted that it was a “civilian airship” that strayed into US airspace due to force majeure circumstances. In late June, however, the Pentagon said it believed that the balloon had failed to collect any intel.