(Bloomberg) -- Police in Dresden detained a German national suspected of carrying out acts of espionage for China, taking the tally of alleged Chinese spies arrested in Europe in recent days to six.  

The arrests come mere days after Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Beijing in a trip that was designed to smooth relations with Germany’s biggest trading partner even as both sides exchanged accusations of protectionism and unfair trade practices.  

They complicate the geopolitical rivals’ efforts to reset ties amid a barrage of trade investigations the EU’s unleashed against China, after complaining that it’s long been “played.” Tensions were already heightened because of cybersecurity breaches that the EU, US and UK say are backed by the Chinese government as part of its broader race for a strategic and economic edge.

Separately, in the UK, two men were on Monday charged under the Official Secrets Act over allegations they spied for China. One of them had been employed — like the man detained in Dresden — as a political aide, according to reports. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent appointment of David Cameron to the post of foreign secretary had been predicted by some to herald a less antagonistic period in Chinese-UK relations — since Cameron’s own tenure as leader was associated with what he called a “golden era” in ties. Yet the UK has been sizing up its own measures to curb China’s growing influence, including by limiting official visas over fears that the system is being abused to bring in spies. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said his nation opposed the “hyping up” of spy allegations in Germany. Such reports were intended to smear China, he said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, also dismissing the UK claims as misinformation.

Beijing has itself ratcheted up efforts to crack down on spying and adopted a new counter-espionage law that came into effect last year. That legislation expands the list of activities that could be considered spying, intensifying the risks for foreign firms.

Alongside this push the usually-secretive Chinese spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, has taken on a more public profile as President Xi Jinping and his coterie stress the need to better educate the public on national security.

Since joining WeChat last summer, the ministry has posted frequently on the social media service on its efforts — from announcing data-security probes into sectors like agriculture and weather stations, to telling primary school students what photos not to post on social media. It has also revealed cases of alleged espionage by the US and UK amid a strategic struggle with Washington and its allies — a rare move for an agency that does not provide data on its arrests.

German Arrests

The Tuesday detention of an alleged spy in Dresden follows the arrest on Monday of two men and a woman suspected of working for Chinese state security to acquire details of ship-engine technology and buy a special laser without export authorization. 

It’s the latest in a spate of espionage cases to come to light in Germany after two Russian-German citizens were taken into custody last week accused of spying for Russia and membership of a terror group planning acts of sabotage.

The man arrested in Germany on Tuesday is an employee of Maximilian Krah, the far-right AfD’s lead candidate in the European Parliament elections, according to a spokesperson for his office. Federal prosecutors suspect the man, who they identified as Jian G., of working for the Chinese secret service, citing intelligence reports from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in a statement on Tuesday.

They suspect G. of repeatedly passing on information about negotiations and decisions in the European Parliament to his intelligence service client. They also accuse him of spying on Chinese opposition members in Germany.

A spokesperson for Krah’s office said he learned of the arrest of his employee from the press and had no further information.

“If it is confirmed that there has been spying for Chinese intelligence services from inside the European Parliament then this is an attack from within on European democracy,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. “All connections and backgrounds must be investigated.”

A federal judge will now decide whether to hold the suspect in custody, the prosecutors said.

--With assistance from Laura Malsch, James Mayger, Iain Rogers and Karin Matussek.

(Writes through with details of international espionage allegations.)

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