A little-reported proposal by U.S. lawmakers to consider expanding the number of foreign nations allowed to participate in a sensitive intelligence-sharing program known as “Five Eyes” is causing a stir among American allies in Asia and pre-emptive pushback from China.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made headlines Tuesday by publicly condemning the Five Eyes program during a diplomatic visit to South Korea — one of a handful of nations that could be added to the intelligence-sharing program under the proposal floated recently in Congress.
When asked during a news conference for a reaction to the potential inclusion of South Korea, Mr. Wang took a dismissive posture, characterizing Five Eyes as an obsolete American program.
It “is completely a product of the Cold War, it is left behind already,” the Chinese foreign minister told reporters, according to NikkeiAsia, a publication based in Japan - another of the countries that could be added to Five Eyes under the proposal at issue.
The Five Eyes partnership currently includes the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee included language in its annual defense policy bill directing the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to look into “opportunities to expand intelligence sharing with” four additional countries — Germany, India, Japan and South Korea.
The last three of those countries are all potential Asian counterweights to China.
The “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement, which was formed during World War II, signified the close relationship between the five countries, all stable Anglophone democracies that once were part of the British Empire.
Those ties became further galvanized throughout the Cold War.
“The committee recognizes the special intelligence-sharing relationship that the United States has maintained with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom (the Five Eyes) since World War II,” the bill reads. “The committee also recognizes that this community of trust did not develop overnight but that over decades these countries have developed unique ways to gather and share intelligence, and thereby strengthen the relationship.”
But the lawmakers said the changing threat landscape could propel the group’s expansion.
“The committee acknowledges that the threat landscape has vastly changed since the inception of the Five Eyes arrangement, with primary threats now emanating from China and Russia,” the bill reads. “The committee believes that, in confronting great power competition, the Five Eye countries must work closer together, as well as expand the circle of trust to other like-minded democracies.”
It is not clear whether similar language was included in the Senate version of the bill, which passed in a closed session in July.