The Memo: 13—20 May 2024

The Memo from 13—20 May 2024: Summary of incidents, ranging from terrorism, covert actions, organised crimes to cybersecurity incident.

The Memo: 13—20 May 2024

In brief:

  • Ulu Tiram Police Station attack results in two fatalities.
  • Grenade explodes in Cotabato chapel, injures two, causes panic.
  • China cracks down on espionage targeting aerospace sector.
  • Three UK men charged with assisting Hong Kong intelligence.
  • China-linked cyber group targets European commercial shipping companies.

Terrorism and insurgency

1. Malaysia

** An Insight on The Ulu Tiram Police Attack will be provided. **

  1. The Phillipines

On May 19, at 10:30 hrs local time, a grenade exploded in the St. Nino Chapel in Cotabato City, injuring two churchgoers. Witnesses reported that two men on a motorcycle hurled the grenade before speeding away. The explosion caused panic among the mixed Muslim and Catholic residents of Purok Silangan.

Why it matters: This attack in Cotabato City occurred more than five months after the December 3, 2023, attack on a gymnasium at Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City. The latest incident marked another grenade attack in the restive city and region, which frequently experiences explosive attacks. While no one has claimed responsibility, it is likely attributed to local insurgents.

Covert Actions

i. China

China's national security authorities have cracked down on multiple espionage cases targeting the aerospace sector, with foreign intelligence agencies attempting to steal sensitive information through inducement and coercion, according to the Ministry of State Security. The ministry highlighted the strategic importance of protecting core secrets amid growing global competition for space dominance, particularly from countries viewing China as a major competitor.

Why it matters: China's crackdown on aerospace espionage underscores the intensifying global competition for space dominance and associated national security risks. This aligns with heightened national security measures, including a new counter-espionage law, amid escalating US-China rivalry in space technology. China's ambitious space programme, aiming for a crewed lunar mission by 2030 and global leadership by 2050, highlights its significant strides, such as the Shenzhou manned spaceship and Chang'e lunar probe projects. With the space economy valued at $460 billion in 2022, maintaining space security is crucial for China's future survival and development, driving global economic growth with its advancements.

ii. The United Kingdom

British authorities have charged three men from southeast England with assisting Hong Kong’s foreign intelligence service. These arrests were part of a series of raids across the UK, reflecting increased action against suspected Russian and Chinese spies in Europe. The men are set to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court under the National Security Act, introduced last year to counter foreign espionage threats.

Why it matters: This operation signals a broader European effort to counter intelligence activities from countries like China and Russia, similar to actions taken in Germany and the UK's expulsion of a Russian defence attaché. China watchers view this move as hawkish, potentially risking a new diplomatic row and worsening Sino-British relations.

Cybercrime and security breaches

i. Europe

A cyber espionage group linked to China, identified as Mustang Panda, has reportedly deployed malware targeting commercial shipping companies in Norway, Greece, and the Netherlands. This information, disclosed by Slovakian cybersecurity firm ESET, aligns with warnings from U.K. and U.S. officials about significant cyber threats from China, particularly towards critical infrastructure. Mustang Panda, known for its espionage activities against governments and organizations in Asia and Europe, uses malware tools to gain full access to devices and execute commands. China’s embassy in Washington has denied any involvement, claiming China is a victim of cyber attacks and opposes all forms of such activities.

Why it matters: This incident marks the first known case of a China-linked group targeting the commercial shipping sector. The implications of this incident are significant, as it highlights the vulnerability of the commercial shipping sector to sophisticated cyber attacks. The involvement of a known Chinese-linked group like Mustang Panda suggests a strategic interest in disrupting or gathering intelligence from critical maritime infrastructure. This could potentiallly lead to heightened tensions between China and affected nations, and broader concerns about the security of global supply chains.

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