The people of China are vacationing more than ever before. A while back I came across a story where Chinese tourists swarmed a tiny village in Austria. Who could blame them, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are breathtaking places to visit.
In 2018, there were 2.9 million Chinese travelers to the United States. Each year, that number has been in decline. But China’s boom isn’t slowing down. In 2010, we knew it was just warming up. As travelers from the People’s Republic of China ebbs and flows, there’s been some espionage lurking underneath.
This story centers around a Chinese tourist, Qingshan Li. He was visiting the US under a tourist visa in San Diego, California. Li was allegedly caught attempting to purchase military munitions under suspicious circumstances. Justin Rohrlich at Quartz reports:
One of the items Li was allegedly after, a Harris Falcon III AN/PRC 152A radio, is designated as a defense article on the United States Munitions List, and subject to international arms trafficking regulations. This means the Falcon III, which provides US troops in the field with National Security Agency-certified encrypted communications, cannot leave the country without a special license issued by the State Department.
Li had agreed to pay AB a total of 50,000 renminbi, or roughly $7,200, for the radio. He knew AB was already under investigation for export-related crimes and believed AB “was attempting to get rid of the radio in light of AB’s entanglement with law enforcement,” according to court filings.
What’s old is now new again. This isn’t the first, nor the last time we’ll be seeing foreign actors participating in freelance espionage while vacationing abroad. Popular tourism spots such as Tallinn, Estonia’s capital used to be hotbeds for KGB activity during the Cold War.
While the he largest immediate threat to the US is cyber-security and Russia’s election interferences — we can expect to see more of this tried-and-true method of “freelancing spying” from other countries, not just China.