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China fumes as Shin Bet admits mugs Beijing gave to ministers not bugged after all

Beijing pans reports of spying devices in cups sent to officials, accuses media outlets of trying ‘to drive a wedge’ between the two countries

An alleged bug found in a travel mug given as a gift by the Chinese embassy to an Israeli ministry. The mug and others like it proved not to contain anything untoward, the Shin Bet security agency said after investigation, on April 12, 2022. (Courtesy)
An alleged bug found in a travel mug given as a gift by the Chinese embassy to an Israeli ministry. The mug and others like it proved not to contain anything untoward, the Shin Bet security agency said after investigation, on April 12, 2022. (Courtesy)

The Shin Bet security service on Tuesday said it had examined travel mugs sent by the Chinese embassy to a government ministry and concluded that they did not contain covert listening devices.

“Shin Bet experts who examined the suspicious part concluded that it is an innocent part meant to retain the vacuum seal in the cup’s walls and maintain its temperature over time,” the agency said in a statement.

The Shin Bet began its investigation after it was alerted that a routine security check found that one of several travel mugs gifted by the Chinese embassy to government offices contained a suspicious part. The suspicions regarding the component were first reported by Army Radio.

All mugs sent by the embassy were reportedly collected for further inspection by the Shin Bet.

Moreover, all government offices were told to be extra careful about receiving gifts from foreign entities as “they may contain listening devices or cameras.”

The mug that first raised suspicions was sent by the Chinese Embassy to the Science and Technology Ministry and was most likely intended for Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, according to an unnamed Israeli official cited by the Walla news site.

Then-tourism minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen holds a press conference on encouraging tourism from abroad, in Tel Aviv, April 27, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The mug was examined before reaching her office, the official said, adding that a similar mug had been addressed to the office of Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli.

Ahead of the Shin Bet’s statement ruling out anything untoward, the Chinese Embassy in Israel fumed at the reports, labeling them “baseless rumors [that] have a severe impact as they aim to drive a wedge between China and Israel, tarnish China’s image and seriously mislead the public.”

“We ask the relevant media outlets to immediately withdraw the false reports, stop helping spread rumors, and take real actions to eliminate the negative impacts that are already caused. If the media agencies insist on spreading such rumors, we will reserve the right to seek accountability,” it said.

“The fact is, the so-called ‘suspicious device’ is a getter, which could be easily found in the same kind of thermal mugs.”

The embassy also said that the mugs were gifted for the Passover holiday as an “expression of friendship” between Israel and China.

A diplomatic source quoted by Army Radio said that the Shin Bet’s announcement was made following a demand by Beijing that Jerusalem release an official statement clearing it of any alleged wrongdoing.

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