The leaders of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Britain’s domestic security service MI5 made a rare joint appearance on Wednesday to warn business leaders about Chinese espionage threats, particularly those targeting Western technology companies’ intellectual property.
According to The Wall Street Journal, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned executives that the Chinese Communist Party is determined to steal technology as part of a broader effort to “undercut your business and dominate your market.”
“They’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it,” he added.
Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, highlighted Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global ambitions and his willingness to take “asymmetrical steps to catch up and overtake” the West.
“This means standing on your shoulders to get ahead of you. It means that if you are involved in cutting-edge tech, AI, advanced research or product development, the chances are your know-how is of material interest to the CCP,” McCallum said. “And if you have, or are trying for, a presence in the Chinese market, you’ll be subject to more attention than you might think. It’s been described as ‘the biggest wealth transfer in human history.’”
McCallum said China is engaging in a wide range of tactics to get ahead, including theft of trade secrets, technology transfers, exploiting research, and cyber espionage.
He explained the CCP gathers information using multiple channels “in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘thousand grains of sand’ strategy.”
Among those channels is the use of “cultivating new contacts” through the “deceptive use of professional networking sites” using “seemingly flattering approaches” that “turn into something more insidious – and damaging.”
“In one example a British aviation expert received an approach online, ostensibly went through a recruitment process, and was offered an attractive employment opportunity. He travelled twice to China where he was wined and dined. He was then asked – and paid – for detailed technical information on military aircraft. The ‘company’ was actually run by Chinese intelligence officers. That’s where we stepped in,” McCallum explained.
McCallum also noted that the CCP is running “sophisticated interference efforts” in an effort to “bend our economy, our society, our attitudes to suit the Chinese Communist Party’s interests.”
He added that the CCP is working “to set standards and norms that would enable it to dominate the international order,” like “normalising mass theft as ‘the cost of doing business these days.’”
“The widespread Western assumption that growing prosperity within China and increasing connectivity with the West would automatically lead to greater political freedom has, I’m afraid, been shown to be plain wrong,” McCallum warned. “But the Chinese Communist Party is interested in our democratic, media and legal systems. Not to emulate them, sadly, but to use them for its gain.”