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China's Commercial Spies Encounter Blowback

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The past year has witnessed an overdue international response to China's rapacious military espionage and economic theft operations.

Noteworthy pushback occurred in December 2018 when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei. Meng is also the daughter of Huawei's billionaire founder, a man regarded as a Beijing insider.

The U.S. has charged Meng with subverting economic and political sanctions on Iran. The U.S. and other nations seem to suspect she runs a high-tech spying operation. Washington seeks her extradition.

Beijing demands that Canada send her to China. Allegedly, China has detained over a dozen Canadian citizens in China. Beijing's bullying pressure tactic looks like a reprisal.

On Jan. 11, Huawei once again made headlines when Poland announced its Internal Security Agency had arrested senior Huawei executive Wang Weijing on spying charges. A former Polish intelligence officer was also charged with espionage.

From 2006 to 2011, Wang worked as a consular officer in Poland. That leads to appropriate speculation. Consular and embassy officers frequently collect intelligence "under diplomatic cover." If caught recruiting spies, they usually claim diplomatic immunity. Apparently, Wang now collects intelligence under what he thought was robust cover provided by Huawei's cash and commercial power. Huawei sells more mobile phones than Apple.

Following the arrests, Poland's internal affairs minister said the EU and NATO must jointly consider excluding Huawei from their markets.

The U.S. has condemned Chinese espionage and illegal activities by Chinese commercial operations.

Consider this high-level congressional criticism. During a Senate Intelligence committee hearing in February 2018, Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked the directors of America's intelligence and security agencies "if they would use products made by Huawei or ZTE." (ZTE is another suspect Chinese enterprise.) Cotton noted that none of them would, nor would they recommend Huawei or ZTE products to private American citizens.

Why? Because U.S. intelligence and defense agencies seem to believe it is highly likely the companies' products have hidden gadgetry that lets Chinese intelligence use them as spy tools. Their service operations, whether human or digital, likely pass on any useful information they may acquire.

The Trump Administration has accused several Chinese businesses of law breaking, to include theft of intellectual property and foreign patent claims. In August 2018 President Donald Trump imposed a penalty when he signed a bill that forbids use of Huawei products by the U.S. government. According to one media source, he is now considering an executive order that would prevent private U.S. companies from using Huawei equipment.

In the process of aiding China's intelligence agencies, Chinese companies have stolen trade, manufacturing and financial secrets of immense value to their own businesses.

This isn't news. In June 2013, observed that "increasingly, Chinese firms are boldly using their stolen technology, daring foreign firms to try and use Chinese courts to get justice. Instead, the foreign firms are trying to muster support from their governments for lawsuits outside China."

Chinese firms have apparently encouraged criminal theft. In 2010, reported Chinese-born engineer "Xiang Dong Yu who worked for Ford Motor Company for over a decade, pled guilty on November 17th of stealing over $50 million worth of Ford technology and selling it to a Chinese automobile company." The technology Xiang stole also had military applications.

Can China be encouraged -- or pressured -- to rein in its illegal activities?

There is scant evidence Beijing will willingly comply.

In 2013, the Philippines asked The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands to rule on the territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing. The Court would convene under terms prescribed by the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China signed.

In 2016, the court concluded China had violated the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, had stolen resources and had violated Filipino sovereignty.

Beijing ignored the decision.

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