China has started an anti-spy crackdown on consulting firms in the country, state media has reported.
Media outlets identified one firm as Capvision – and reported that police had raided its offices across China.
It follows a recent probe into US consultancy Bain & Company’s office in China, and the March detention of Chinese staff at US firm Mintz Group.
Beijing last month broadened its anti-espionage laws around information sharing.
Capvision was set up in 2008 by ex-Bain consultants and Morgan Stanley bankers. It offers consultation services to more than 2000 clients and has headquarters in Shanghai and New York, according to its website.
Chinese state broadcaster Jiangsu Television on Monday said in a report the company had failed to “seriously fulfil its counterintelligence responsibilities and obligations to prevent espionage”.
An unnamed police officer interviewed by the broadcaster accused firms such as Capvision of routinely hiring “highly-paid consulting experts” with close ties to Chinese authorities to “illegally obtain various types of sensitive data”, which he said posed “major risks to China’s national security”.
State security officers raided Capvision’s offices in Suzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and other cities, where they questioned employees and examined office items, Jiangsu Television reported. It is unclear when the raids took place.
Capvision has not responded fully to the allegations. But on Monday night, the firm wrote on its WeChat account that it would be “resolute” in fulling its national security responsibilities. It would also take on a “leading role” in regulating the consulting industry, it said.
Just over a week ago, Chinese police visited the Shanghai offices of US consultancy Bain & Company and questioned staff. Officers took away computers and phones, according to the Financial Times, which cited people briefed on the matter.
And in March, Chinese authorities detained five local staff at Mintz group and shuttered its Beijing office.
The Chinese foreign ministry said the New York-based due diligence firm was “suspected of illegal operations”. Mintz Group specialises in background checks, fact gathering and internal investigations.
China passed an expansive anti-espionage law last month which widened the definition of “spying” to include cyberattacks against state bodies or critical information infrastructure. The revised law, which will take effect from 1 July, also gives Chinese authorities more teeth to forcibly search the belongings or request data of individuals suspected of spying.
Authorities can also ban Chinese citizens suspected of spying from leaving the country, or foreign nationals from entering. Foreign officials and China watchers say Beijing’s anti-spy crackdown might hurt efforts to open up its economy.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s ambassador to China, Jorge Toledo Albinana, said on Tuesday: “The latest news on crackdowns on consultancies is not good news”.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said it would be “helpful” if Chinese authorities could more clearly specify the areas in which firms can or cannot conduct due diligence.