Alemanha, Deutsche Welle, Alemão


The press office of Germany’s Federal Prosecutor is a hive of activity these days: “Arrest for suspected secret service agent activity” — read the headline of a press release from April 23, 2024. A press release from the day before had exactly the same headline.

All four suspects — three men and one woman — are alleged to have spied for China.

“We must finally understand that this is a very serious and very real threat to our security,” said Green Party lawmaker Konstantin von Notz who heads the Parliamentary Control Committee for the Intelligence Services in the lower house, the Bundestag.

“We must act quickly and decisively both through criminal prosecution and by uncovering the structures and networks,” he added.

The latest developments came as no surprise to the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service.

“We initiated these investigations, and once the evidence was clear, we were able to hand this case over to the police and the public prosecutors,” Thomas Haldenwang, president of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, told DW.

Germany arrests 3 more suspected spies

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His agency’s 2023 report stated: “China’s global ambitions are being pursued to get more and more power,  and it can be expected to further intensify its espionage activities as well as seek to influence state actors,” it read.

China is not in a rush, Haldenwang told DW: “They want to be the number one political, military and economic power in the world by 2049. And they are continually pursuing that goal — by legal means, but also by illegal means,” he said.

Classic targets: Universities and businesses

Chinese academics and students at German universities are “obliged to pass on information to the state,” Haldenwang warned.

“We must not be naive in our dealings with China,” said German Minister for Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, adding: “What is needed is an “even more critical weighing up of risks and benefits in cooperation, especially in science and universities.”

The domestic intelligence agency is also wary of economic cooperation. With every joint venture and every direct investment, managers and other personnel from China come to Germany, said Haldenwang, identifying a potential gateway for espionage. “Business secrets can also reach China,” he warned.

Germany and China: partners, competitors and systemic rivals

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A spy in the antechamber of an AfD politician?

Tuesday’s arrest of a suspected Chinese agent, however, highlights the field of politics rather than science or business: Jian G. was a close associate of Maximilian Krah, the lead candidate of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the European elections in June 2024.

The far-right AfD, which is being monitored nationwide by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a suspected extremist party, has also repeatedly been accused of having close ties with Russia.

However, according to intelligence service findings, Russia’s motives are different from China’s. “Because of the hot war conducted with enormous use of force by Russia, it would be negligent not to assume the ability and willingness of its intelligence services to conduct complex operations in Europe,” Haldenwang pointed out.

The domestic intelligence chief expects Russian espionage to continue to increase and that new personnel will be recruited for this purpose. Shortly after the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Germany expelled around 40 suspected agents who were accredited to the Russian embassy in Berlin.

Germany: 2 suspected Russian spies arrested in Bavaria

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Since then, there have been reports of Russian attempts to recruit Russians living in Germany. “But so far, that community has proved to be very resilient,” Haldenwang said, adding that there may also be Russians in Germany who have strong sympathies for President Putin and “who may be prepared to act in Russia’s interests.”

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has described the unprecedented arrest of six suspected spies within six days as a success: “Our security authorities, above all the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, have massively strengthened counter-espionage measures. In this way, we are protecting ourselves against the hybrid threats of the Russian regime, but also against espionage from China,” she said.

This article was originally written in German.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.


Deutsche Welle


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