The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, has warned that China poses a greater threat to the future of the US than any other external force and that it is prepared to do anything to achieve global supremacy.
Speaking at the Hudson Institute, a conservative-leaning foreign policy think tank, Mr Wray on Tuesday warned that Americans need to understand both the scale and the complexity of the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions, as well as the dangers posed by their tactics.
“China, the Chinese Communist Party, believes it is in a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership.
“That is sobering enough, but it is waging that fight not through legitimate innovation, not through fair and lawful competition, and not by giving their citizens the freedom of thought and speech and creativity that we treasure here in the United States.
“Instead, China is engaged in an effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.”
Those means include outright theft of intellectual property – both physical and digital – as well as efforts to corrupt and spy on insiders at US institutions, both commercial and governmental, said Mr Wray.
Name-checking Huawei in particular, the director stressed that ostensibly private Chinese companies are not private in the sense Americans would usually use the term. They can be called upon to turn over any data at any time the government requests it, and to incorporate communist party cells. Mr Wray suggested that such cells have been installed in US companies as a condition of doing business in China.
And while Huawei and other companies operating in the US and elsewhere have attracted concerns over privacy and access to government and private sector data, Mr Wray warned that the threat is much greater than that.
“Our data is not the only thing at stake here,” he said. “So is our health, our livelihoods, and our security. We have now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China.”
Concern about China at the top of the US government is far from uniform or consistent, but it has grown overall in recent years as the US’s military, intelligence and economic dominance face these new challenges. Donald Trump, for his part, has ostensibly been a China “hawk” since he came to power, though his animosity towards the Chinese has mainly been focused on trade.
He has lately turned his fire on China’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic, boasting frequently of his decision to close the US border to arrivals from China – though that claim is in fact notably overstated – and nicknaming the disease “the China virus” and “kung flu”.
Critics have complained that his repeatedly using such terms is fuelling bigotry and even violence against Chinese Americans, which has surged since the pandemic began.
In this charged atmosphere, Mr Wray was careful to stress that these people were not his target.
“Let me be clear: this is not about the Chinese people, and certainly not about Chinese Americans.
“Every year, the United States welcomes more than 100,000 Chinese students and teachers into this country. For generations, people have journeyed from China to the United States to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their families, and our society is better for their contributions.”