Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 04, 2013

Bugged in China

Apparently, it's not just American computer networks that are targets for Chinese spies. Perhaps, if you're not spied on, you're a nobody. What effect do these things have on legitimacy, rule of law, and political culture?

Chinese government officials are constantly wiretapping and spying on one another
Bo Xilai
A few months after a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party named Bo Xilai fell spectacularly from the nation’s top political ranks to disgrace and imprisonment, the New York Times reported that one of his crimes… was wiretapping the president. But just as shocking as the revelation that Bo had planted electronic devices to spy on President Hu Jintao was the suggestion… that such behavior may be widespread among China’s top leaders…

Qi Hong, a specialist in removing surveillance equipment… portrays Chinese officials as living in a world so rife with competition and suspicion that many have turned themselves into mini spy chiefs, running extensive espionage campaigns against fellow officials…

Qi tells story after story of removing tiny, high-tech, professional spying devices from the offices and cars of officials. Some of them expected it, others didn’t… The ones who did not find spying equipment seemed to assumed it was only because the cameras or microphones were too sophisticated to be detected…

Chinese politics have long been viciously cut-throat… and with the stakes often much higher than just winning or losing a coveted promotion. Corruption is thought to be widespread in the party, but it can also be harshly punished…

The culture of no-holds-barred spying that seems to have pervaded Chinese officialdom might also inform why some of those same officials have seemed so aggressive about spying on others — including foreigners…

Frank Langfitt, [an] NPR reporter… bought his own basic, $35 bug detector… to try at a friend’s office. “In just five minutes,” he writes, “I detected bugs in a lamp, several phones and two fax machines.”
See also: In China, The Government Isn't The Only Spy Game In Town

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