PARIS (AFP) — As athletes train for the summer Olympics in China, a new book claims that the country's vast spy network is gearing up for a different challenge - keeping an eye on journalists and potential troublemakers.
French writer Roger Faligot, author of some 40 intelligence-related books, has penned 'The Chinese Secret Services from Mao to the Olympic Games', due out February 29.
His findings claim that special teams are being formed at the country's embassies abroad "to identify sports journalists ... and to define if they have an 'antagonistic' or 'friendly' attitude in regards to China."
Potential foreign spies who may seek to enter China by posing as journalists or visitors will be subject to special surveillance.
The same goes for human rights activists who could use the event to demonstrate in favour of causes such as Tibet, where China has violently crushed protests against its rule, it says.
That's not to mention the long list of other issues preoccupying Chinese authorities, including the possibility of an Al-Qaeda attack and protests from the Falun Gong spiritual movement. China has outlawed Falun Gong, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings.
"The watchword for the Chinese is 'no problems at the Olympics,'" Faligot says.
Faligot, who is fluent in Mandarin, says he spoke with numerous Chinese officials.
According to him, two million Chinese work directly or indirectly for the intelligence services through the state security agency.
In a chapter titled 'China: Gold Medal for Espionage', the author says the director of the group coordinating Olympic security, Qiang Wei, has a 1.3-billion-dollar (885-million-euro) budget.
An Olympic security command centre has been created "in order to assure a response to all risks in real time".
Olympic organisers admitted last year to budget overruns caused by extra expenditure on security at the Games, the biggest international event ever staged in communist China.
Last September, China's then-police chief Zhou Yongkang said that "terrorist" and "extremist" groups posed the biggest threat to the success of the Olympics.
He did not elaborate, but China has previously accused some members of the ethnic Muslim Uighur community in the nation's far western region of Xinjiang of terror-related activities.
In the year leading up to the August 8-24 Games, the Chinese army will have organised 25 exercises on how to respond to crises, including a chemical attack on the subway.
The teams being formed in foreign embassies will work in conjunction with "different Chinese intelligence services under diplomatic cover".
Those intelligence services will include the secretive 610 office, set up in 1999 to target the Falun Gong movement and which operates worldwide.
But the intelligence services won't only be deployed during the Olympics to keep an eye out, Faligot says. They'll also be recruiting among the two million visitors expected for the event.
China 'will make secret checks on backgrounds of Olympic visitors'
By ROB DRAPER and SIMON McGEE - More by this author » Last updated at 23:09pm on 16th February 2008
The Chinese government has been accused of carrying out secret inquiries on the backgrounds of athletes, officials and journalists going to this summer's Olympics – so it can ban anyone who opposes the regime.
Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott claims China's Ministry of Public Security has drawn up a document detailing how people are to be assessed – and listing 43 categories to be kept out.
Any athlete, member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), journalist, sponsor or guest who has been on a peaceful demonstration in support of the independence of Tibet should be excluded, according to the alleged document.
Also allegedly due for checks are representatives of the "host city for the next Olympics", suggesting figures like London 2012 Games chairman Lord Coe and London Mayor Ken Livingstone will be screened for their political views on China.
The Beijing-based Public Security Ministry – responsible for policing 1.3 billion people – allegedly lists what type of people should be barred.
They include members of religious groups and terrorist organisations and sections of the media "who endanger the Olympic Games".
A category entitled "China's enemies" includes the families of people killed in anti-government protests, such as Tiananmen Square, "overseas hostile forces" and "individuals who disturb social stability".
And listed under "separatists" is the Dalai Lama's Government of Tibet in Exile and members of its affiliated organisations as well as "individuals who partake in parades, demonstrations and protest activities with the goal of breaking up nations".
Prince Charles, a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, has already said he will not attend the Olympics. But under the alleged criteria he would be on the blacklist.
Journalists attract particular scrutiny, with bans to be extended to "staff of any foreign media hostile to the People's Republic of China" and "staff of media who publish anti-communist articles and those who viciously slander the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government".
The secret checks will also look out for "individuals who form unlawful religious groups".
Mr McMillan-Scott, a long-standing critic of the Chinese regime, said last night that he had been assured the details were accurate and he believed them to be so.
They were passed to him by exiled members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, a philosophical and exercise regime that has been persecuted in China since 1999.
Mr McMillan-Scott said: "There is absolutely no question in my mind that it is a genuine document. The Falun Gong have an incredible network of communications and they penetrate every area of Chinese life.
"This document epitomises the way the Chinese state operates against any form of dissidence, any form of nonconformist religion and any form of opposition to the established order."
Erping Zhang, spokesman for Falun Gong in the USA, added: "The document came from inside the Chinese security bureau.
"Some people who are secret Falun Gong practitioners are in the security bureau. They passed us this information last year and we know it is genuine.
"We feel the Chinese authorities are politicising the Olympic Games. It should be a movement open to all individuals regardless of gender, race, religion or politics."
IOC Director of Communications Giselle Davies said: "We can't comment on this because we do not know the source.
"However, we have every reason to believe that the accreditation procedure will work as it has done in the past.
"We have had assurances from the organisers that the usual procedures will be followed, which would involve only the normal security checks and balances."
Last week, The Mail on Sunday told how British Olympic chiefs were forcing athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record or face being banned from Beijing.
The controversial clause had been inserted into athletes' contracts for the first time and forbade them making any political comment about countries staging the games.
Just a day later, following an international outcry, the offending clause was dropped from the contract.
A British Olympic Association spokeswoman said last night she was unable to comment about the contents of the list but said: "At the Olympic Games it is standard procedure to carry out security checks on everyone attending, like competitors, IOC members and Association staff."
A London representative of the Chinese government refused to comment.