Military police march past the Great Hall of the People beside Tiananmen… (Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty…)
BEIJING — China has arrested an employee of the Ministry of State Security on suspicion of spying for the United States, Hong Kong media reported Friday.
The employee is said to be a 38-year-old man who was a secretary to Qiu Jin, the deputy minister of state security. He is alleged to have been recruited and trained by the CIA and was arrested sometime this year.
"He helped to successfully penetrate the state security department and became aide to the vice minister … and was able to get his hands on core secrets of senior state officials," a report in the Hong Kong-based Oriental Daily said.
There were conflicting reports on how the alleged spy was recruited. In one account, it occurred while he was a student in the U.S. The Oriental Daily, however, reported that he was caught up in a classic "honey trap" by a woman who photographed him in a compromising setting in a Hong Kong apartment and later coerced him into spying.
The espionage charges appear to be entangled in the power struggle raging within the Communist Party since the beginning of the year. China is in the throes of a leadership transition, with its top-tier officials set to retire at the 18th Communist Party Congress later this year.
The alleged spy was not identified in the reports, which named only Qiu, who is believed to be a close ally of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
In February, Qiu personally handled the politically explosive case of Wang Lijun, a police official from Chongqing who had sought asylum in a U.S. Consulate in western China.
After fleeing to the consulate in Chengdu, Wang alleged that Bo Xilai, the powerful party secretary from Chongqing, was covering up a murder committed by Bo's wife.
Qiu was reportedly one of the people who convinced Wang to leave the consulate, and on Feb. 8 he flew back to Beijing with Wang.
"The CIA's China spy case definitely threw a big bucket of cold water on Hu and Wen's campaign to purge Bo. The CIA's involvement inChina'spower struggle will make Hu and Wen lose face," wrote Duowei News, a pro-Beijing Chinese-language website based in the United States.
News of the alleged spy first surfaced in a May 25 article in Xinwei Monthly, a Hong Kong-based magazine that occasionally publishes leaks from Beijing.
Jin Zhong, a veteran political analyst and editor based in Hong Kong, said that Xinwei Monthly was connected to one of the political factions in Beijing, and he believed it had inside information.
"I don't think that they would make up a story like this. They have internal sources," Jin said. "But it is a complicated story that appears possibly to be connected to the Bo Xilai scandal."
Reuters news agency reported Friday from Hong Kong that it had confirmed from three separate sources that there was an arrest of an unnamed suspected spy.
If true, the incident could be the most explosive case of a U.S. spy in China since 1985, when Yu Qiangsheng, an intelligence official, defected to the U.S.
The Ministry of State Security is the main intelligence arm of the Chinese government. Even the names of its top officials are a state secret.
The ministry also falls under the purview of national security czar Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Politburo's nine-member Standing Committee who was considered Bo Xilai's mentor.
Relations between the U.S. and China are in a delicate state at the moment because of Wang's asylum bid at the U.S. Consulate as well as the case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident who escaped house arrest and fled totheU.S. Embassy in Beijing, ultimately leaving for the U.S. last month.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had no comment on the spy case, according to news reports.