At a news conference on Nov. 1 where U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be undertaking a new initiative to more aggressively pursue cases of Chinese espionage, the focus was on economic theft related to intellectual property.
After all, that was at the crux of the latest prosecuted case involving Chinese semiconductor firm, Fujian Jinhua, and Taiwanese firm UMC. The two companies—and several Taiwanese individuals—were indicted on charges of attempting to steal technology related to manufacturing powerful DRAM computer chips from U.S. semiconductor firm Micron. Sessions had disclosed details of the case during the press conference, which occurred just days after the Commerce Department enacted an export ban against Fujian Jinhua forbidding it from buying U.S. components, software, and technologies.
But Sessions also touched on other broad issues concerning Chinese bad behavior: Chinese investments in the United States that can pose national security risks; Chinese influence on American campuses and threats to academic freedom; and Beijing’s attempts at influencing public opinion.
Indeed, Sessions noted that this wide-ranging initiative is because China’s espionage goes beyond the traditional targets of defense and intelligence agencies, “but against targets like research labs and universities, and we see Chinese propaganda disseminated on our campuses.”
Recent federal cases that the DOJ prosecuted include Chinese scientists who worked at U.S. universities and companies, who stole research to bring back to China, as well as spies who work within China’s intelligence agencies.
Sessions said the DOJ is currently prosecuting five other cases of theft or attempted theft to benefit the Chinese regime.
Five federal prosecutors, in the states of Massachusetts, Alabama, California, New York, and Texas, have been assigned to the task force.
In the area of Chinese investments, several acquisition deals involving U.S. high-tech firms have been blocked by U.S. authorities in the past year, on the grounds that Beijing would then be able to get their hands on key technologies that give U.S. industries a competitive edge.
Chief among them is the field of 5G technology, which will be critical to many cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence and IoT (internet of things) devices. The DOJ initiative will look into whether China poses “supply chain threats” in this area, according to a separate document issued by the DOJ.
The DOJ will also assist in examining foreign investments under a new law that allows U.S. authorities tighter scrutiny over deals, as well as identify cases of Chinese companies attempting to bribe foreign government officials, the document said.
In the realm of education, the DOJ wants to tackle Beijing’s attempts to infiltrate U.S. campuses—echoing a concern that Vice President Mike Pence mentioned in his speech on U.S.-China policy in early October at the Hudson Institute. Pence spoke about the presence of Chinese Students and Scholars Association groups, which comprise Chinese international students. They “alert Chinese consulates and embassies when Chinese students, and American schools, stray from the Communist Party line,” Pence had said.
Pence also noted the trend of China providing large funds to universities that promise not to touch on subjects the Chinese Communist Party finds taboo.
The DOJ initiative will also enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act to find those who have not yet registered and seek to “advance China’s political agenda,” according to the DOJ document.
In early October, amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s voiced concerns about election meddling from China, media reports emerged that the DOJ ordered two Chinese state-run media outlets with U.S. operations—Xinhua New Agency and China Global Television Network—to register as foreign agents.
About a week prior, China Daily, the English-language arm of China’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, ran a four-page advertorial in the Des Moines Register, with articles about how the trade war has forced Chinese importers to turn to South America instead of the United States for soybeans.
Iowa is a major soybean producer and one of the heartland states that voted for Trump in the presidential election.