Did Chinese gift mug to Israeli officials contain spying device?

“If the media agencies insist on spreading such rumors, we will reserve the right to seek accountability,” the Chinese embassy stated.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

A looming diplomatic crisis between Israel and China was averted Tuesday when the Shin Bet security services announced that gifts sent to Israeli officials by the Chinese Embassy in Israel did not include an espionage device.

Initial reports cited suspicions that thermal cups that the Chinsese sent to government officials in honor of the upcoming Passover holiday contained a miniature recording device.

After several tense hours, the Shin Bet said in an official statement that “following reports of finding a suspicious component in thermal cups sent to a government office – Shin Bet technological experts who examined the component determined that it was an innocent component designed to maintain the vacuum in the cup and maintain temperature over time.”

The Chinese Embassy in Israel released an angry statement in which it explained that “on the occasion of Passover, following diplomatic customary practices, the Chinese Embassy in Israel sent holiday gifts to the Israeli side to express our friendship.”

“However, the Embassy noticed that certain Israeli media spread rumors that a thermal mug in the gifts ‘may’ contain ‘a suspicious device.’ The fact is, the so-called ‘suspicious device is a getter, which could be easily found in the same kind of thermal mugs,” the statement said.

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“The baseless rumors have a severe impact as they aim to drive a wedge between China and Israel, tarnish China’s image and seriously mislead the public. Media reports say they cited ‘sources’ from [a] relevant Israeli government authority, but the mentioned government authority made clear to the Embassy that it hasn’t made any statement to the press regarding this matter,” it added.

The Embassy asked Israeli media outlets to “immediately withdraw the false reports, stop helping spread rumors, and take real actions to eliminate the negative impacts that are already caused.”

“If the media agencies insist on spreading such rumors, we will reserve the right to seek accountability,” it added ominously.

Suspicion of espionage not baseless

It is of significance to note that the fears of Chinese espionage are not baseless. In recent years, Chinese intelligence agencies have been found to be collecting information in a variety of ways around the globe.

Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) published a report in February 2022 in which it pointed out that “China sees Israel as a leading technological power, and therefore it is not impossible that alongside its public cooperation with Israel, Beijing is engaged in espionage activity against blue and white companies and institutions – civilian, military, and government alike.”

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“Israel is an attractive source of technologies needed in China, as explicitly expressed by the Comprehensive Partnership for Innovation signed between the countries in 2017. Consequently, alongside the overt and agreed-upon activity, it is likely that China’s intelligence agencies are working in Israel to attain its objectives in espionage efforts, as well as in other countries of value to it,” the report notes.

“As in the United States, it cannot be ruled out that government ministries, defense industries, and civilian companies in Israel have been attacked in the service of China’s intelligence objectives. It is also likely that a substantial focus of interest in the eyes of Chinese intelligence is the complex system of relations between Israel and its ally, the United States,” the report adds.

“China is not an enemy of the State of Israel, and the bilateral economic relations have important advantages. However, China is openly striving to become a leading global power, and it is carrying out extensive efforts to attain the technologies it needs in methods with varying legitimacy.

“China’s methods of operation and intelligence and espionage capabilities also pose a significant challenge to Israel, as an attractive target and a source of advanced technology,” the report concludes.