Secret police: The Ministry of Public Security’s clandestine foreign operations

Paper presented at the workshop “Mapping China’s footprint in the world IV”, organised by Sinopsis and the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute.


China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has a long and overlooked history of foreign intelligence operations. It is a law enforcement agency and counterpart to Western police agencies, but counterintelligence and political security are among its core functions. This is especially so under Xi Jinping, and deserves greater attention because of its implications for law enforcement cooperation, human rights and counterintelligence.

This paper makes some initial observations on the history of MPS foreign operations, describing its activities in the United States, Hong Kong and other regions. It introduces the structures behind these operations up to 1983, when most of the MPS’s intelligence units were incorporated into the newly established Ministry of State Security (MSS). Even after the MSS’s creation, parts of the MPS continue to operate as intelligence agencies. The MPS maintains structures for carrying out covert operations in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and neighbouring countries and has engaged in political interference efforts against Malaysia and the United States.

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