Top US and British law enforcement officials met with private business and academic leaders Wednesday to call attention to what they said is the serious security and economic threat posed by China, which is seeking to steal their intellectual property and influence politics in western countries.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and MI5 Director General Ken McCallum held the event in London to highlight the joint work by the two security agencies to thwart what they said was the most serious challenge from espionage and hacking by the Chinese government.
Beyond the stealing of technology, China now is also making moves to shield its economy from any future sanctions should it try to take over Taiwan by force, drawing lessons from western efforts to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Wray said.
“We’ve seen China looking for ways to insulate their economy against potential sanctions, trying to cushion themselves from harm if they do anything to draw the ire of the international community,” Wray said. “In our world, we call that kind of behavior a clue.”
He cited recent estimates from a Yale University study that western businesses have lost $59 billion as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war.
“And if China does invade Taiwan,” Wray said, “we could see the same thing again, at a much larger scale.”
McCallum called attention to the fact Wednesday’s event was the first time FBI and MI5 leaders have held a joint public event. The two agencies have close ties, with MI5 officers working at the FBI and FBI agents at MI5.
Business and universities for decades sought access to the growing Chinese market as a way to expand their businesses. But the risk has also grown.
“The widespread Western assumption that growing prosperity within China and increasing connectivity with the West would automatically lead to greater political freedom has been shown to be plain wrong,” McCallum said. “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.”
Wray cited recent FBI investigations of Chinese intelligence activity including an effort to target a US congressional candidate in New York because of ties to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that were crushed by the Chinese military. He said the FBI had also caught people working for Chinese companies trying to dig up fields in rural areas of the US to try to get access to genetically modified seeds.
McCallum said MI-5 is now running seven times more investigations than in 2018 related to Chinese activity in the UK.