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Defected Chinese Spy Spotlights Beijing’s Long Arm Targeting Dissidents Abroad

The Chinese regime hires agents to go after dissidents all over the world in a bid to get them back to China, a former spy has revealed.

The spy, who recently defected to Australia, asked to be referred to as Eric. For 15 years, he took orders from secret police in China to target dissidents in countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, India, and Australia.

One of his targets was Li Guixin, a practitioner of the meditation discipline Falun Gong, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has attempted to eliminate since 1999. Mr. Li  experienced at least five arbitrary arrests and time in detention over his faith before he fled to Thailand in 2014 with his wife and teenage daughter.

“Right now, we need you to confirm whether we are looking at the right apartment,” reads a screenshot that Eric shared with The Epoch Times.

“Observe what’s inside and around the apartment; take some photos and videos. Organize what you see later so that we can plan our stakeout,” Eric’s handler wrote, in a message dated Feb. 16, 2021.

The handler sent a series of photos. Some showed Mr. Li and his family meditating in a public park. Others included headshots from the family’s identity cards used in China and their former address from back in 2017.

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Mr. Li, after reviewing these photos, told The Epoch Times that he was shocked.

While many of the photos were shared by friends on social media, at least one family photo was never posted on the internet, he said.

“Where did [the regime] get it?” he said, adding that he felt like he was in a movie. It was the first time he was able to confirm suspicions he’d had that had led him to move multiple times in recent years.

“It’s like, this is for real,” he said.

Eric said that after receiving the instructions from his handler, he brought a translator with him to inspect the address he’d been given. After finding that Mr. Li no longer lived there, Eric had minimal involvement in the case. He said he couldn’t confirm if—nor how many—other Chinese agents might be involved in targeting Mr. Li.

Screenshots of the conversation between Eric, a former Chinese spy, and his handler, in which he was asked to look for Chinese dissident Li Guixin in Thailand, on Feb. 16, 2021. (Courtesy of Eric)Screenshots of the conversation between Eric, a former Chinese spy, and his handler, in which he was asked to look for Chinese dissident Li Guixin in Thailand, on Feb. 16, 2021. (Courtesy of Eric)

“The infiltration of the CCP in Southeast Asia is quite serious,” Eric told The Epoch Times. When it comes to “entrapping” targets, he said, countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma (also known as Myanmar) are “top choices” for the regime.

“Local governments sometimes turn a blind eye, or even cooperate with them.”

Being “no one special,” Mr. Li suggested that Beijing had singled him out because of his dissenting viewpoints. He has written critical pieces on the Chinese regime and became a contributor to The Epoch Times’ Chinese language edition in the fall of 2021. The Epoch Times’ website, like many other international outlets, remains inaccessible in mainland Chinese due to the regime’s internet blockade.

In 2023, the U.S. Justice Department brought two separate cases against suspected Chinese agents, including two who allegedly operated a secret Chinese police station in New York City and two others accused of trying to bribe U.S. tax officials against an entity run by people who practiced Falun Gong. In the former case, one of the men also helped organize counter-protests to Falun Gong demonstrations during communist leader Xi Jinping’s 2015 Washington trip.

Wang Liming, who works as a Chinese political cartoonist under the pseudonym Rebel Pepper, was also a target of the former Chinese agent. He said that his close friend, a Japan-based blogger with millions of fans on Chinese social media, had once been asked by Ministry of State Security agents to spy on Falun Gong practitioners while he was visiting his hometown.

“He rejected [the request] flat out,” Mr. Wang told NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times. “They are mobilizing everyone to become a spy. If anyone with influence thinks they can use you, they will ask, ‘Will you … collect intelligence for us?’ This is quite scary.”A WarningMr. Li still remembers what happened in late 2021, the same year Eric’s handler asked him to help locate Mr. Li.

That December, on the way back from a park in Thailand’s Suphan Buri Province where they practiced Falun Gong meditation, Mr. Li’s wife met a man who appeared interested in learning the practice.

The Li couple welcomed him to their home to read the practice’s teachings together and later gifted him a copy of “Zhuan Falun,” the practice’s main text.

They added each other as friends on the instant communication app Line, and the man asked for the couple’s address, saying he wanted to send them some tea.

The man called himself Li Guoan and described himself as a tour guide. “Guoan,” word for word, means state security.

Mr. Li didn’t catch this clue until weeks later when a woman called, urging them to leave.

“Don’t ask who I am,” Mr. Li remembered the woman saying. “I’m someone very close to that national security guy.”

“Your situation right now is very dangerous,” she said. “Hurry up and move to another city.”

According to the woman, Chinese intelligence forces had been surveilling the Li family for some time. For supplying the book and their address, “Guoan” had received a reward from the local Chinese Consulate of 100,000 Thai baht (about $3,000 at the time), with another equal sum to come, the woman said.

The man had been trying to locate the Li family since early 2021, the woman told him.

Mr. Li moved his family to a friend’s place that very day.

Li Guixin meditates in Lumphini Park in Bangkok on May 12, 2014. (Courtesy of Li Guixin)Li Guixin meditates in Lumphini Park in Bangkok on May 12, 2014. (Courtesy of Li Guixin)

In a few months, though, suspicious people, many speaking Chinese, again appeared in their building’s first floor, where his friend had just opened a café. They lingered for hours, taking photos. They also showed a particular interest in details about some “Chinese” individuals working “in the media.”

Mr. Li began to fear he was the one they were looking for.

One time, while his friend was working in the kitchen, one person tried to sneak upstairs. Later, one local revealed to Mr. Li’s friend that he had been sent by the Chinese Consulate.

Even today, Mr. Li fears the regime hasn’t let up the pressure on him.

Around the Chinese New Year in February, Mr. Li spoke on the phone with his sister in China. She told him the police had just come that very day.

“They know your situation quite well,” she told him. Then, bizarrely, she said, “Come back.”

He told her it was impossible.

“Hard to say,” she replied.

Mr. Li felt that the authorities must have threatened his sister. “Of course, she knows that’s dangerous,” he said. “She’s saying this for someone to hear.”

Direct calls to his mother, now 85, have long been blocked, and talking to his sister was the only way for him to communicate with his family.

Mr. Li knew he’d have to stop calling his sister to not “bring them more trouble.”

“You and mother take care,” he told her during the call.

Mr. Li, who has moved several times since 2022, still feels the shadow of the persecution upon him. But he said he’s trying not to let the fear control him.

Through it all, he said, he has met people like that woman who volunteered to help, a sign that the CCP isn’t enjoying much public support.

It gives him hope that people who have a conscience will not follow the CCP in persecuting good people.

Meanwhile, Mr. Li tries to “take good care of” himself and leaves all the rest to fate.

Living by the values of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—the core tenets of Falun Gong—he said he has nothing to fear.

Luo Ya and Chang Chun contributed to this report.

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