“France-China: dangerous liaisons”. It is a book that set things on fire in 2019. Our colleague Antoine Izambard revealed in it the “very great interest” of Chinese services for Brittany: its officer schools (Navy in Finistère, Army in Ille -et-Vilaine), its naval bases, its submarine base and its nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SNLE), its oceanographic and cyber centers of excellence, its defense industry, etc.
Vigilance: “Inscribed in the genes” in Brest
Citing a confidential report from the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security (SGDSN) from 2018, the book mentioned in particular “the increased number” of marriages between soldiers based in the region and Chinese students from Brest, or an intrusion into the within a very promising Breton start-up, “by a person linked to a Chinese intelligence service”.
Several engineering schools and the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer), with a worldwide reputation, had been singled out. “Because we have exchanges and research partnerships with Chinese universities, we have been accused of naivety, rewinds Louis Geli, marine geophysicist at Ifremer?. There isn’t a Chinese Communist Party member with a gun behind every Chinese researcher! Same story with the president of the University of Western Brittany (UBO), Matthieu Gallou: “Scientific research, by definition, is international. We are vigilant and rigorous. It is also inscribed in the genes of the UBO: until the mid-1990s, students from all the countries of the Eastern bloc were refused. But don’t fall into paranoia. Brest, sensitive area? A few months ago, mobile operators were ordered not to install Huawei 5G antennas there. Paradox? At the same time, the control of hold baggage at Brest airport was entrusted to Nuctech, a Chinese giant blacklisted, in particular by the United States…
“Chinese marriages”: “Not credible”
For his university, Matthieu Gallou evokes “three or four suspected cases since 2016”. Some students who had “a predilection for everything that is done on the Crozon Peninsula (Editor’s note: it is here, in the harbor of Brest, that the base of the nuclear ballistic missile submarines is located, the SNLE) or on subjects whose geographical or scientific scope did not seem… natural”, he summarizes.
The Chinese students of Brest and the Breton soldiers? “Rumours and fantasies! “, sweeps, on the other hand, Matthieu Gallou. According to the 2013-2020 data from Insee that Le Télégramme consulted (without specifying the profession exercised by the French spouse), the number of marriages including a person (woman or man) of Chinese nationality in each Breton department is generally counted …on the fingers of one hand. The record ” ? Nine in 2015 for Finistère, 11 for Ille-et-Vilaine in 2014. For Brittany, 30 unions in 2015 (12 the following year), i.e. 2.34% of “Chinese marriages” registered in all of France… “If a submariner from Ile Longue (Editor’s note: the SNLE base, the heart of French nuclear deterrence), for example, was approached in this way, he would immediately be sidelined from any operational activity “, provide two informed sources, who consider such an approach” not very credible “.
Start-up spied on: those responsible… not aware!
The Telegram also interviewed one of the two leaders of the Breton start-up supposed to have suffered an intrusion. “You are the second journalist to call me. I don’t know where this story comes from, but it’s incredible, he sighs, obviously surprised and… amused. We have no contact with the Chinese, have not suffered any physical or computer intrusion. Or else, we don’t know, and that worries me! In any case, no intelligence service alerted us”. The mystery remains intact.
“The threat is real, in some respects underestimated, but it is often caricatured…”, deplores a specialist, who also mentions “a lack of skills” on the subject.
Paul Charon, co-author of a voluminous report on “Chinese influence operations” published in 2021 by the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irsem) also puts it into perspective. According to this former intelligence officer, the Chinese priority in France is “the fight against all those who can represent a threat to the Chinese Communist Party”: “the five poisons” which are, for the CCP, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the democrats, Tibet and the spiritual movement Falungong. Second target: our policies. Who thinks what? Or who to rely on to block a text that would be harmful to Chinese interests. Only then comes technological, scientific, commercial and industrial espionage. “France is not a priority for China”, summarizes Paul Charon.
letelegramme Fr Trans