China is using part of its internal internet surveillance network to mine data from Western social media and provide its government agents with information on foreign targets, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
Reviewing hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts and company filings, the Post reported that China's public opinion analysis software - used to detect politically sensitive information online - was also being used to collect information on foreign targets through U.S. companies like Twitter and Facebook.
Not only is China using its pre-existing software to gather data, it is also investing in more sophisticated programs to further its ambitions, the Post reported. One $320,000 Chinese state media software program reportedly mines through Twitter and Facebook to create a database of foreign journalists and academics.
Other programs have reportedly been developed to observe Western and foreign language in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, two places where the international community has condemned China for its alleged human rights violations. The Post reported that these operations have been in the works since the beginning of 2020.
One program - called a "foreign personnel analysis platform" - that cost $300,000 was reportedly designed to mine social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for data on "well known Western media journalists" as well as "key personnel from political, business and media circles."
The Chinese government did provide comment for the Post's report. The Hill has reached out to the Chinese government foreign press office as well as the Chinese Embassy in D.C. for comment.
The report comes amid tensions between the U.S. and China over a host of issues.
President Biden has announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year to protest China's human rights record, including its treatment of Muslims and its crackdown on pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong.
Biden imposed new sanctions on China earlier this month in response to human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims.
Biden also signed legislation banning goods from China's Xinjiang region just before Christmas.