The international intelligence alliance “Five Eyes” is passing on intelligence to non-member nations in a move to counter Chinese and Russian influence.
All five member countries of the international intelligence alliance “Five Eyes” have agreed to expand their intelligence network in an effort to counter threats from China, according to recent announcements from government officials. Beginning early this year, all the classified information obtained by the group has been distributed to ‘like-minded’ countries including Germany and Japan.
“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 U.S. official told Reuters. “What might have started as ad hoc discussions are now leading to more detailed consultations on best practices and further opportunities for cooperation.”
Five Eyes is a five-nation alliance comprised of the U.S., Australia, Canada, the U.K. and New Zealand. The alliance was set up after World War II under the cooperation of UKUSA or The United Kingdom–United States of America Agreement to contain the Soviet Union at that time. The group became an international headline in 2013 after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked the alliance’s intelligence activities to several mainstream media outlets.
According to seven government officials from four out of the five alliance members, countries such as Japan, France, and Germany have received the alliance’s information on China’s activities, as Reuters reported.
They claimed involving the other countries and thus, creating an unofficial extension of the alliance, is in response to growing concerns regarding foreign interference, particularly as related to China.
Besides China, the information shared also touched on issues related to Russia, several officials said.
Why is Five Eyes worrying about the rise of China?
China has increasingly exerted its economic influence around the world, which the alliance and the West believes is driven by political interests – an allegation Beijing repeatedly denies. China is believed to have launched intelligence and digital attacks on Western countries, aimed at secretly stealing trade information from major corporations.
Last Wednesday, Belgian and U.S. authorities arrested a Chinese national accused of stealing trade information from General Electrics.
China and the U.S. have been involved in a trade war by increasing tariffs on imported products from each other. Earlier this month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused Beijing of meddling in U.S. domestic affairs by targeting their tariffs at Republican states and providing grants in an attempt to coerce entrepreneurs, film studios, universities, journalists, and government and local officials. The Chinese government snubbed the accusation.
As Washington and its allies express concern over China’s aggression, experts remark that Beijing‘s operation is sometimes seen as subtle and undetected.
“The low-cost, high-impact, and virtually nonexistent consequences for these [influence] tactics are encouraging a multitude of nations to employ them,” John Watts, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security told the Atlantic.
The U.S. also sees China’s growing military as “alarming” after a Chinese warship almost hit a U.S. destroyer in the contested South China Sea in early October.
A U.S. official claimed that the Chinese ship maneuver was “unprofessional and unsafe”.
Chinese Financial ‘Honey Traps’
China also lures in other countries with investments, seen by many as debt-traps. Malawi, for example, decided to cut ties with Taiwan after being wooed by a $6 billion Chinese investment promise in 2008.
Life after the Chinese investment has not proven so easy. Taiwan had opened the Mzuzu hospital specialized in treating people with HIV in the African nation. After severing ties with Taiwan, the hospital failed to complete construction projects and annual funds for the hospital often fell short. In recent years, China has donated more medical supplies and training to help bolster Malawi’s health facilities.
The expansion of Chinese firms in Malawi did not bring the hoped-for boom in prosperity and local people were instead underpaid. As of 2016, Malawi’s GDP was lower than the period before the country buried ties with Taiwan in 2008. In 2011, an anti-China demonstration erupted.
Russia and China Deepen Ties
The increasing tension between the U.S. and both China and Russia is triggering increased military cooperation between China and Russia.
At a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shouigu last April, Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe said his country would boost military cooperation with the Kremlin.
Wei’s visit to Russia as China’s new defense chief was seen as a bold step and a warning to the U.S. about cooperation between the two former Communist rivals.
“I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to show the world a high level of development of our bilateral relations and firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation,” Wei said during his Moscow visit.
But now as China and Russia grow closer, the Five Eyes Alliance may be countering by growing to an eight eyes alliance.