Christopher Wray’s warnings won’t come as a surprise to many U.S. manufacturers and workers.
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned on Tuesday that China’s authoritarian regime is the “greatest long-term threat” to the economic and national security of the United States, noting that Chinese espionage is so rampant that the agency opens up a new counterintelligence case involving China about every 10 hours.
In a livestreamed speech delivered at the Hudson Institute in Washington, Wray outlined in detail a number of ways in which China’s government and communist party is engaging in a “generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership.”
Chinese theft is “on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history,” Wray said. China’s regime is also “working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”
A lot of what Wray outlined in the speech won’t come as a surprise to many American manufacturers and workers, who have dealt with China’s multitude of unfair trade practices and widespread theft of intellectual property for years. Much of what Wray outlined also mirrors recent research on the goals of the Chinese regime, including a new report from Horizon Advisory that examines how China is aiming to use the COVID-19 pandemic to further its geopolitical ambitions.
But still, it is noteworthy that the head of the FBI outlined the issue at such length. China’s mission is to become the world’s only superpower, and is willing to do so by “any means necessary,” Wray warned.
China’s government employs a number of tactics to steal innovation, including through its intelligence services but also via vehicles like state-owned enterprises and by “corrupting trusted insiders,” Wray explained.
“China often steals American intellectual property and then uses it to compete against the very American companies it victimized, in effect cheating twice over,” Wray said. “They’re targeting research on everything from military equipment to wind turbines to rice and corn seeds.”
Wray specifically pointed to the case of Shan Shi, a Texas-based scientist who was sentenced to prison earlier this year. Shi stole trade secrets for syntactic foam, which is used in submarines.
Shi had been a part of China’s Thousand Talents Program. He pledged to “digest” and “absorb” technology in the United States and give it to a Chinese state-owned company, which planned to use the stolen technology to put the American company that developed it out of business and dominate the market, Wray said.
“In one of the more galling and egregious aspects of the scheme, the conspirators actually patented in China the very manufacturing process they’d stolen, and then offered their victim American company a joint venture using its own stolen technology,” Wray added. “We’re talking about an American company that spent years and millions of dollars developing that technology, and China couldn’t replicate it—so, instead, it paid to have it stolen.”
This story isn’t unique. The FBI has conducted more than 1,000 investigations into China’s “actual and attempted theft of American technology,” alongside more than 1,000 counterintelligence investigations related to China, Wray said.
Economic espionage cases tied to China have increased by about 1,300 percent.
“Just two weeks ago, Hao Zhang was convicted of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and conspiracy for stealing proprietary information about wireless devices from two U.S. companies,” Wray added. “One of those companies had spent over 20 years developing the technology Zhang stole.”
Nearly all aspects of American society have been threatened by the actions of China’s regime, from government to academia to even the rule of law, Wray said. China’s government also exploits the openness of American society and the economy while maintaining its own closed system.
Again, a lot of this won’t come as much of a surprise to American manufacturers and workers.
“Many of the distinctions that mean a lot in the United States are blurry or almost nonexistent in China—distinctions between the government and the Chinese Communist Party, between the civilian and military sectors, and between the state and “private” industry,” Wray explained. “For one thing, an awful lot of large Chinese businesses are state-owned enterprises—literally owned by the government, and thus the Party. And even if they aren’t, China’s laws allow its government to compel any Chinese company to provide any information it requests—including American citizens’ data.
“On top of that, Chinese companies of any real size are legally required to have Communist Party ‘cells’ inside them to keep them in line. Even more alarmingly, Communist Party cells have reportedly been established in some American companies operating in China as a cost of doing business there.”
Wray noted that his criticism is “not about the Chinese people, and this is certainly not about Chinese Americans,” but rather centers on the actions of the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party.
“Confronting this threat effectively does not mean we shouldn’t do business with the Chinese. It does not mean we shouldn’t host Chinese visitors. It does not mean we shouldn’t welcome Chinese students or coexist with China on the world stage,” he said. “But it does mean that when China violates our criminal laws and international norms, we’re not going to tolerate it, much less enable it.”