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Trade War a Weapon Against China's Spy War

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File

In May, I wrote a column arguing China's pervasive spying and influence operation in America has no historical precedent.

Beijing literally targets the whole of American society.


American scientific, commercial and economic creativity interests China's spies. Intellectual property has financial value and may assist a weapons program. However, China's strategic operation has deeper objectives, such as infiltrating the political and educational sinews that ungird a society.

Press reports in April that Chinese spies had penetrated the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston spurred the May essay. MD Anderson is arguably the world's top cancer research facility. Chinese spies filched years of cancer research data -- much of that research paid for by Texas and U.S. taxpayers.

China's intellectual property theft is more than tax theft. Since the spying robs U.S. institutions and corporations of products and royalties, over time it becomes a form of trade theft, a long-range, indirect attack on U.S. future productivity.

Stealing knowledge may have immediate payoffs, but the drain on future productivity eventually contributes to weakening the U.S.

Seeding key American corporations, research and educational institutes, and media organizations with people China can influence or blackmail might eventually weaken American will to counter Chinese imperial adventurism. The U.S. has the political will to contest China's slow invasion of the South China Sea. However, after 20 years of funding research and buying influence, America might not be so willing.

The MD Anderson case had hints of social and political penetration. Both Science Magazine and The Houston Chronicle reported the National Institutes of Health had evidence that described "conflicts of interest or unreported foreign income by five faculty members."


Other personnel were forced to retire or resign, several of them ethnic Chinese. Chinese government apologists immediately screamed "profiling" and racist discrimination. I argued that the truth is China's dictatorship abuses ethnic Chinese. If you disagree, check out Tiananmen Square and the current threat to Hong Kong. The communist dictatorship employs hi-tech digital and surveillance systems to monitor the behavior of its own citizens, in other words, to oppress political opposition. The U.S. government believes some Chinese companies are really spy operations, Huawei in particular. The company has tight links with the Chinese government, which means it has tight links with the Chinese Communist Party.

In December 2018, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on charges that she had violated U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. She remains in Canada awaiting an extradition hearing. She faces criminal charges, but U.S. investigators suspect she cooperates fully with Chinese intelligence. Last week, China demanded her release.

The Huawei 5G (fifth generation) mobile broadband and cellphone system worries Washington. 5G is more than voice and video. This powerful system connects the "internet of things," "things" that could open your garage door or open a dam's floodgates. What if a terrorist or a saboteur were to open the floodgates? If the saboteur were a Chinese agent, would this be an act of war? As it is, hackers have successfully penetrated some of Huawei's broadband gateway systems.


In June 2019, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command published this tough assessment of China's intersecting business, trade and spy activities: "Although trade has benefitted both China and its trade partners, Chinese use of espionage and theft for economic advantage, as well as diversion of acquired technology to the military, remains a significant source of economic and national security risk to all of China's trading partners."

The assessment reinforced INDO-PACOM Commander Adm. Philip Davidson's February Senate Armed Services Committee testimony. "Beijing is leveraging its economic instrument of power in ways that can undermine the autonomy of countries across the region," (the Pacific), Davidson said. China uses short-term credit that comes "with strings attached: unsustainable debt, decreased transparency, restrictions on market economies, and the potential loss of control of natural resources."

To counter China's pervasive threat, the U.S. must attack China's money -- it's economy. The time to do that is now.

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