Analysts tend to focus on Chinese espionage against its traditional adversaries, such as the US and Taiwan. But Beijing is increasingly stealing military secrets from its ally Russia, and now Moscow may be pushing back
Back in May I reported that China had allegedly stolen the design of the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone)* short-range ballistic missile for its M20, adding that this followed upon repeated accusations by Russian defense firms in recent years that China was stealing Russian technology for military purposes.
It’s an open secret that in recent years relations between China and Russia, Beijing’s principal source of advanced weapons systems in recent decades, have soured, with Moscow becoming reluctant to sell Beijing its most advanced weapons. Part of this is the result of Moscow growing increasingly wary of China’s intentions as it gains strength, as well as Russian manufacturers’ inability to produce enough systems to satisfy the demand of both the Russian and Chinese militaries.
What is also troubling the relationship is growing evidence that China has been stealing military secrets from Russia and using that information to manufacture its own equivalents — only to turn those into cheaper export versions that threaten to edge Russian foreign military sales out of the market.
It now looks like China’s been at it again, this time trying to obtain classified information on the S-300PMU (SA-10 “Grumble”) long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air missile system. Although the arrest occurred on Oct. 28 last year, the Federal Security Service only made the news public this week, occurring as it does one week before Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin embarks on a state visit to China.
The suspect, identified as Tun Sheniyun (童中雲), allegedly worked as a translator for official delegations. Tun is said to have attempted to obtain technological and maintenance documents on the S-300PMU. He now faces a sentence of 10 to 20 years in jail for espionage.
Russia has sold S-300PMU, S-300PMU-1 (SA-20 “Gargoyle”) and S-300PMU-2 (SA-20B) units to China since 1993. China also manufactures a licensed copy of the S-300PMU-1 known as the HQ-10. The slightly less efficient HQ-9, of which China has an estimated 60 batteries, is a derivative of the S-300 and the US Patriot. (A variant of the HQ-9, known as the “Hai” HQ-9, or HHQ-9, is deployed on the PLA Navy’s Type-052C “Luyang II”-class destroyer.)
So why “steal” documentation when China already has the technology? Moscow claims China has been attempting to reverse-engineer the S-300 but that it may have hit a bottleneck and is trying to expedite the process by stealing extra documentation. What’s missing from the reports so far is that what Tun was likely trying to obtain was information on the S-300PMU-2, which is more advanced and has a longer range than the S-300/PMU-1 and the HQ-9/10.
* NATO appellation in parentheses