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Is the Chinese government trying to acquire land and companies to spy on Canada?

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Canada has blocked attempts by the Chinese government to acquire properties near sensitive and strategic locations over espionage concerns, according to the head of Canada's leading intelligence agency.

"We have seen in the past acquisition of land, acquisition of different companies where when you start to dig a little bit further, you realize that there is another intent," Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director David Vigneault said in a recent interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes. "And we have seen and blocked attempts by the (People's Republic of China) to acquire locations near sensitive, strategic assets of the country where we knew that the ultimate purpose was for spying operations."

Vigneault was interviewed alongside FBI director Christopher Wray and other Five Eyes intelligence chiefs. Created during World War II, the Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance between the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam declined to provide specific details or examples of blocked Chinese acquisitions in Canada.

"In a world marked by economic competition, some states seek to advance their strategic political, economic and military objectives by exploiting investment and trade with other countries, including Canada," Balsam said.

Balsam cites two new national security laws in China that compel companies and citizens to co-operate with the intelligence agencies. The Investment Canada Act, he adds, sets out a national security review process for foreign investments in the country.

"There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods, and sources of intelligence," Balsam said. "I can assure you that CSIS is committed to protecting Canada and Canadians from national security threats."

China has also been accused of operating over 100 so-called "police stations" abroad to monitor dissidents and its diaspora community under the guise of providing services like driver's license renewals. The RCMP has reportedly moved to shut operations like these down in Canada. The Chinese government has strongly denied these allegations.

U.S. lawmakers have also sounded alarms over Chinese entities purchasing companies and large tracts of farmland, including properties near American military bases.

"There is no country that presents a broader, more comprehensive threat to our ideas, our innovation, our economic security, and ultimately our national security," FBI director Christopher Wray told 60 minutes. "We welcome business with China, visitors from China, academic exchange. What we don't welcome is cheating and theft and repression."

Defence Minister Bill Blair was asked about the CSIS director's Chinese espionage claims on Monday, and he was indirect in his response.

"I am quite familiar with the work that Canada has done to protect our national interests, the protection of critical infrastructure, and I'm not going to talk in any detail about the intelligence we've relied upon or even actions that have been taken," Blair, who served as public safety minister between 2019 and 2021, told reporters. "I've been a member of this cabinet now for over six years and we have engaged in many such actions over the past six years."

China's embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Ferris, a history professor at the University of Calgary and a fellow at the university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, says he has no doubt that these problems are real.

"A decade ago, around the oil patch in Calgary, the general belief was that Chinese purchases of Canadian energy companies was for purposes of acquiring technology and espionage," Ferris told CTVNews.ca. "Vigneault's other points seems to me to refer to Chinese entities buying properties from which they can intercept cell phone communications, or other electronic emanations, e.g. from PCs, whether from government or private organizations."

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