July 1, 2013: A Chinese court recently sentenced a disgraced Communist Party official (Lei Zhengfu) from Chongqing province to 13 years in jail for corruption. Lei’s bad behavior was revealed when a local businessman sought to blackmail the official (into helping with an illegal property deal) by threatening to release a video he had of Lei having sex with an 18 year old girlfriend. The blackmail effort went bad and the video ended up on the Internet, where it proved enormously popular. Chinese prosecutors investigated and found that Lei was, as suspected, dirty. Without all that publicity, Lei would probably never had been prosecuted. In China being corrupt is not as serious a problem as getting unwanted publicity.
The Lei prosecution might not have worked a few years ago, but last year the new Chinese leadership declared another major campaign against government corruption. In the last six months, over a hundred arrests a week have been made. Like past anti-corruption campaigns, most of those taken down are low level officials (like Lei) who often made themselves targets of investigation by displeasing their superiors or, like Lei, allowing his misbehavior to go public. The most senior corrupt officials, some known to have accumulated billions of dollars in wealth for themselves and their families are, so far, immune from prosecution. Unless, of course, they became a public spectacle. The Chinese Communist Party hates the wrong kind of publicity.
To help deal with that, police have been ordered to vigorously pursue people using sexual blackmail to force corrupt Chinese officials to cooperate or simply pay up. In some cases the officials have called the bluff of the blackmailers and that resulted in videos appearing on the Internet, revealing quite graphically the extramarital escapades of corrupt officials. While this is something of a public service, the Chinese police do not approve of this sort of vigilante action against corruption. The police are frequently on the payroll of corrupt politicians, which gives them another unofficial reason to go after those who use this sort of “honey trap” to fight corruption (and get rich).
The honey trap is mainly used in East Asia as a way to recruit spies in other countries. For example, if a military officer or government official is found to be involved with a foreign woman intel officials are alarmed. For example, a Taiwanese Air Force pilot was suspended from flying and put under investigation when he was found to be dating a Chinese woman who was a journalist. Taiwan considers (with some accuracy) reporters for Chinese state controlled media as agents for Chinese intelligence agencies.
China continues to use "honey trap" (sex scandal) operations with great success. For example, four years ago four Taiwanese government officials were lured to a Chinese red light district and covertly captured on video doing something they could be blackmailed (into spying for China) for. This is a classic use of the honey trap.
The Chinese, and the Russians, have been doing this sort of thing for years. It sometimes backfires. This happened seven years ago when a blackmail demand was made to the head of the encrypted communications section of the Japan's Shanghai consulate. The man was being pressured by Chinese agents to hand over sensitive intelligence or be exposed for sexual activities the Chinese lured him into (a "honey trap"). The Japanese diplomat committed suicide instead, while also alerting his superiors. Having the victim kill himself, instead of cooperating, is always a risk when running a honey trap.
The Taiwanese use their considerable honey trap experience as a reason to warn all Taiwanese officials who travel to China to be careful. Sometimes the Chinese attempt to use the honey trap in foreign countries but this is more dangerous. If the local police find out the Chinese can lose some valuable agents and get some of their diplomats expelled as well. But overall, the Chinese have been quite successful with honey traps and continue to use them. So do the Russians and many other countries.
Inside China this honey pot activity has gotten out of hand because criminal entrepreneurs are using it. The videos do not always feature illicit sex. Sometimes they just show expensive watches, cars, and homes the corrupt officials have accumulated on an official salary that could never pay for all this. While this is something of a public service, most of the time the Chinese people gain nothing because the blackmailed official pays up and that’s the end of it. But government officials, especially more senior (and generally immune to prosecution) ones fear that these honey pot hustlers will snag a really senior official and do something truly unfortunate, like sell the vid to a foreign government or foreign media. Thus the current anti-corruption drive is accompanied by an even more aggressive anti-blackmailer program.