OTTAWA – Chinese government officials are making a concerted effort to learn about Canada’s work to prevent high-tech smuggling – an effort security experts warn could help fuel the multi-billion dollar industrial espionage business.
Global News has learned the Canada Border Services Agency met in Ottawa with a Chinese government delegation from the province of Guangdong on Sept. 13 to discuss Canadian efforts to combat smuggling.
The meeting in September was set up by George Xu, the head of the Sino-Canada Technology Exchange Centre, an organization that sets up visits between Canadian and Chinese government delegations.
Sources told Global News Xu sent invitations to similar Canadian groups asking to discuss contraband trade, human trafficking and illegal immigration, as well as Canada’s “experience and strategies” in regard to the “illicit traffic of critical high technology and strategic goods.”
The last topic raises red flags for people concerned about China’s growing reputation as a master of industrial espionage.
China has been working to transform its labour-driven economy to one rooted in technology – technology experts say is sometimes stolen from countries like Canada, reproduced and sold in China and beyond.
“We know that China is by far the most dangerous country when it comes to espionage, the most dangerous country when it comes to stealing technology and exporting technology illegally back to China or to rogue countries,” said Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior Canadian intelligence officer.
Juneau-Katsuya said such a meeting could provide the Chinese with information about the technology Canada uses to detect smugglers and other interception methods – valuable details for spying efforts.
“By coming here and asking questions, they will get answers. The Canadians are so good at giving answers,” he said. “We are so naïve and occasionally when it comes to security we are borderline stupid.”
There are already concerns Chinese officials got too many answers on national security in an Aug. 3 meeting, which made headlines after top CBSA officials allegedly got drunk with a Chinese delegation at a Mississauga, Ont. restaurant. The meeting, which was not set up by Xu, was held to discuss deportation cases and is now the subject of a complaint.
CBSA is looking into the situation and will sanction anyone who behaved inappropriately, according to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ spokeswoman Julie Carmichael.
Juneau-Katsuya said whoever approved the September meeting should explain why Canadians are talking about smuggling and high-tech goods with the Chinese – who are known to do just that.
“They have to explain why: why this is happening, what are their intentions with this and to be sure they are conscious of playing with fire,” he said.
Neither Toews nor the CBSA would comment on the meeting, what was actually discussed or its purpose when asked by Global News.
The man who requested the meeting said it shouldn’t be a cause for worry.
“It’s not really something they are interested in, finding out how the Canadian Border Agency operates or trying to take advantage of what they learn,” Xu told Global News from Beijing.
“I think most delegations, when they come to study certain subjects; it’s not really them trying to spy on what Canada is doing.”
Xu said the delegation was simply trying to understand how Western countries control smuggling, which is a major problem in Guangdong. He added that it is the job of Canadian government agencies to monitor the incoming delegations for security purposes.
There has been no shortage of Chinese industrial espionage cases south of the border where the Americans have prosecuted dozens of people for stealing and smuggling secrets from companies like Ford, DuPont and Motorola.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates the cost of economic espionage in general to be more than $13 billion dollars a year. Arrests by the FBI for such spying have doubled in the past four years.
The estimated cost of industrial espionage in Canada is also in the billions of dollars, with the Chinese being key contributors.
“We do have a lot of evidence there has been significant transfer of Western-developed technologies to Chinese firms who then illegally copy them and sell them at a cheaper price because they didn’t have to pay for the production,” said Charles Burton, who studies Canada-China relations at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
Burton said spying could take many forms; computer-hacking, subverting Canadians to share information, or smuggling information out of the country.
While liaising on subjects like immigration is reasonable, talking to the Chinese about how Canada protects its borders could provide them a roadmap for smuggling, according to Burton.
“We don’t want to help the Chinese state to know how to beat our Canadian customs systems and get classified technologies and hardware to China when we would prefer they not have them,” he said.
With files from Jacques Bourbeau