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Arnaud Bertrand


Feb 16

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Right now in France there's a scandal about a young Chinese girl called Xuan Wu who, while studying in France, supposedly "spied on French labs". It was revealed by @Mediapart ⬇️ Let's look how the accusations stack up 🧵 (spoiler: they don't)…



Feb 14View on Twitter

Entre avril 2018 et septembre 2021, une étudiante chinoise a passé des nuits dans des laboratoires sensibles à Metz et Strasbourg, permettant l'accès à un de ses compatriotes. La #DGSI s’inquiète des vulnérabilités des établissements de recherche français.

Entre avril 2018 et septembre 2021, une thésarde a passé plusieurs nuits dans des laboratoires sensibles à Metz et Strasbourg, permettant à un de ses compatriotes d’y pénétrer. La DGSI s’inquiète d...

Une étudiante chinoise espionnait des laboratoires français

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First, the facts. The case against Xuan Wu is that while writing her PhD she spent a some nights and weekends inside her universities' laboratories. She's also accused of having let another Chinese individual join her in the lab one weekend.

Wait, that's it? That's it. A PhD student who worked late nights and weekends, one time with a friend. But was there sensitive data to steal in those labs? Apparently not, the director of one of the universities concerned claims she couldn't access anything remotely sensitive.

That doesn't deter @Mediapart's very honest journalist who quotes an "expert" saying that "in her university's computers she could have gotten an understanding of the dynamics of the research that the EU finances at the school: who collaborates with whom and on which subject."

Highly sensitive data indeed! Especially knowing that most EU financing is public data anyhow and that anyone anywhere in the world can get an understanding of "who collaborates with whom and on which subject" by looking at the names of authors in published studies.

Was she charged with anything? Nope, nothing! The DGSI (French equivalent to the FBI) was alerted and investigated but that led to no charges. She was nonetheless banned from accessing the university's premises and had to go back to China to complete her PhD from there.

The rest of the article is just guilt by association, a very dishonest journalistic trope. For instance they write that she got her master from Beihang University and they quote Antoine Bondaz (🙄) who states that it's where many Chinese weapon engineers are trained.

They also quote infamous ASPI who describes partnering with Beihang University as a "very elevated risk" for any foreign university Risk of what? Unclear. Plus in this case the university in question didn't even partner with Beihang, it's just where Xuan Wu studied in the past🤦

They also describe another case - from 2005, 17 years ago! - of a Chinese caught downloading files during an internship at a car company. A disgusting way to let the reader understand that all Chinese are spies even though 1 case in 17 years actually demonstrates the contrary...

In any case the very notion that a student could "spy" at a university is utterly ridiculous. I might have gotten the concept wrong but isn't the whole point of a university to learn about a given field so you can then use the knowledge gained in your professional career?

This whole case is eerily similar to the recent "Chinese agent infiltrates UK Parliament" story ⬇️ Same concept: a Chinese woman who didn't do anything illegal - there also weren't any charges - but still got her character assassinated in the press.…

Key part in BBC article: "There are not the laws in place to [...] tackle interference. As a result, [...] going public is the best way of disrupting any ongoing risk." In other words this woman was acting legally and they've chose character assassination as the way to go. 🤮

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Interestingly the 2 cases both originate from the countries' intelligence services, respectively the French DGSI and MI5. MI5 said why: "There are not the laws in place to [...] tackle interference. As a result, [...] going public is the best way of disrupting any ongoing risk."

I suspect the French learned from their British counterparts. It is not illegal for Chinese to study in France - which is essentially what Xuan Wu was doing, albeit quite eagerly - so they try to instill a good dose of Sinophobia in order to create an environment hostile to them

It's not the first time either. Last summer French magazine @Libération came out with this cover ⬇️, easily one of the most sinophobic in recent memory. The claim? The "worrying infiltration" by China of French universities. The facts? Again, almost none.

It's not to say that countries don't have sensitive data that needs protecting. Obviously they do. And by all means, do protect it, from China and any other country. Zero issue with that.

But that's not the point here, is it? You can absolutely protect data without creating a deleterious atmosphere where the French regard all Chinese as automatically suspicious, potential agents of the "evil CCP", represented as black dragon with its claws around the world.

I agree

Arnaud Bertrand


Entrepreneur. Previously HouseTrip (sold to TripAdvisor), now, the website that explains Chinese Medicine. I've been known to write decent threads.

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