Journalists representing China's main state media outlet are in hot water after they were seen filming NATO military equipment and asking probing questions of German soldiers about their daily routines and military jobs.
The incident has threatened to alight fresh controversy related to European and US suspicious of aggressive global spying tactics by Beijing, not the least of which is Chinese firm Huawei's rollout of next-generation 5G products inside Germany, which Berlin has controversially been favorable to, resulting in the Trump administration notifying the German government in March that the US would limit the intelligence it shares with German security agencies should Berlin move forward in permitting Huawei to build the country's mobile-internet infrastructure.
According to a new report in Bloomberg, "Germany’s military is investigating what information three Chinese reporters collected while Chancellor Angela Merkel visited a NATO unit, signaling heightened mistrust of the state-run Xinhua news agency."
The precise details of to what extent the Xinhua reporters were "snooping around" are as yet not fully known, but the three journalists were reportedly full credentialed to be at the "Very High Readiness Joint Task Force training area" in Munster, Germany, on May 20.
They were at the location with other journalists covering Merkel's visit to the base. Given the Chinese state media journalists were invited and had valid press passes, it begs the question of whether they were simply acting as all reporters - asking probing questions, and getting exclusive shots, ultimately attempting to gain valuable journalistic information just as any other media figure would.
The Bloomberg report explained further, based on unnamed European defense sources familiar with the matter:
A German intelligence official said Xinhua has been under observation for some time due to its links to China’s ruling Communist party. German intelligence views Xinhua reporters as feeding Chinese propaganda efforts and helping collect data and information abroad that’s subsequently put to official use, the official said.
But then one wonders why they would have been issued official press credentials to be on the base in the first place? Xinhua central media offices have denied that any of its reporters are under investigation or have been banned from sites in Germany.
Interestingly, while the US government has recently required employees of Xinhua and broadcaster China Global Television to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Germany doesn't currently have the same restrictions.
But likely, something significantly out of the ordinary was observed when the three journalists were on the base, or possibly they were caught in the act seeking unauthorized access to sensitive information.
It goes without saying that the whole incident could renew domestic debate in Germany over the Huawei 5G controversy, especially if evidence emerges that Beijing used the journalist to gain sensitive material.
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