Threats From China ‘More Brazen, More Damaging’ Than Ever Before: FBI Director

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
February 1, 2022 Updated: February 2, 2022

The United States is facing a new level of threat from the Chinese regime that’s “more brazen, more damaging” than ever before, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Jan. 31.

“When we tally up what we see in our investigations, over 2,000 of which are focused on the Chinese government trying to steal our information or technology, there’s just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, innovation, and economic security than China,” Wray said during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

In fact, these theft incidents have been happening “literally every day,” he said, noting that the bureau is opening new cases to counter China’s intelligence operations about every 12 hours.

“They identify key technologies to target,” Wray said, pointing to China’s industrial blueprint known as “Made in China 2025.” “Then they throw every tool in their arsenal at stealing the technology to succeed in those areas.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) released the blueprint in 2015, a 10-year economic plan aimed at advancing 10 domestic tech manufacturing industries. These sectors include robotics, new energy vehicles, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, maritime vessels, and agricultural machinery and equipment.

To steal what it needs, the Chinese regime has unleashed “a massive, sophisticated hacking program that’s bigger than those of every other major country combined,” Wray said, adding that China’s own hackers often work with cybercriminals.

One such hacking incident was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2020 when it indicted two Chinese hackers who worked with CCP’s Ministry of State Security (MSS)—the regime’s chief intelligence agency. The two allegedly targeted hundreds of victims, including companies, government and nongovernmental organizations, and U.S.-based human rights activists, in a decade-long campaign.

A China-backed hacking group, with purported ties to the Chinese regime, was behind the 2021 cyberattack against Microsoft, in which it exploited vulnerabilities in the company’s Exchange Server software, compromising tens of thousands of systems globally.

Aside from hacking, Beijing also deploys its intelligence agents to co-opt individuals who can assist with operations such as by providing cover, spotting and assessing sources, and helping with the theft, Wray said.

He used the speech to highlight one particular criminal case—a Chinese MSS agent named Xu Yanjun who recruited a GE Aviation engineer—to say there are many similar Chinese operations.

Xu was convicted in November 2021 after his failed attempt to obtain GE Aviation’s trade secrets through the recruited engineer. According to Wray, Xu is just “one Chinese intelligence officer working for an entire unit dedicated solely to stealing aviation secrets.”

Wray also spoke about a case involving Chinese wind turbine maker Sinovel Wind Group, to show the devasting effect China’s theft has had on U.S. businesses. According to Wray, U.S.-based firm AMSC, after seeing its proprietary codes on wind turbine stolen by Sinovel, became a smaller company with about 600 fewer employees.

Sinovel was convicted of federal charges in January 2018 for stealing from AMSC, which resulted in losses of over $800 million for the company.

“The Chinese government also makes investments and partnerships to position their proxies to take valuable technology,” Wray said.

The Chinese regime also is known for requiring foreign companies to enter joint ventures with Chinese companies, many of them backed by the communist regime, in order to obtain the foreign firm’s know-how, technology, and intellectual property.

Targeting Individuals and Companies

Wray said China is also “getting more brazen” in controlling certain speech inside the United States.

“In November, just two months ago, the Chinese Embassy put out letters effectively warning U.S. businesses that if they want to do business in China, they need to fight against Chinese government-related bills in our Congress,” he said, without identifying the businesses.

The FBI director’s comments appear to confirm an exclusive report by Reuters last year. Citing multiple unnamed sources, Reuters reported that China’s embassy in Washington was sending letters to U.S. executives, pushing them to urge lawmakers to drop specific bills that “seek to enhance U.S. competitiveness.”

The letter allegedly asked companies to oppose the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement (EAGLE) Act, according to Reuters. The Senate approved USICA in June last year, while the EAGLE Act, which stalled in the Senate, has been included in the recently unveiled House measure called the America COMPETES Act of 2022.

The Chinese regime has also set its sights on co-opting American politicians, Wray said, aiming “to corrupt our leaders, to buy or intimidate acquiescence to their will.”

“​​The Chinese government understands that politicians in smaller roles today may rise to become more influential over time, so they look to cultivate talent early, often state and local officials, to ensure that politicians at all levels of government will be ready to take a call and advocate on behalf of Beijing’s agenda,” he said.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) was the subject of controversy in late 2020 after it was reported that he had ties with a suspected Chinese spy, Christine Fang, when he was a local city council member prior to 2015.

From 2011 to 2015, Fang, a Chinese student at California State University–East Bay, cultivated extensive ties with local politicians in the San Francisco Bay Area by volunteering in fundraising campaigns and attending political events. U.S. intelligence officials believe she was working under the direction of the MSS, according to an Axios investigation. Swalwell said he severed ties with Fang after the FBI alerted him of her suspicious activities in 2015.

China’s Fox Hunt, an operation launched by Beijing in 2014 to repatriate Chinese fugitives, is also a concern, according to Wray.

“Currently, there are hundreds of people on U.S. soil who are on the Chinese government’s official Fox Hunt list and many more not on the official list,” he said. “Most of the targets are green card holders, naturalized citizens, folks with important rights and protections under U.S. law.”

China’s transnational repression has gone beyond Fox Hunt.

“For decades, the Chinese Communist Party has targeted, threatened, and harassed U.S.-based Tibetans and Uyghurs, Falun Gong members, pro-democracy advocates, and any others who question their legitimacy or authority,” Wray said.

Nine individuals acting as “illegal agents” for Beijing were indicted in July of 2021. They are accused of trying to force a former CCP official living in the United States to return to China. 

Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.