U.S. former officials and experts are urging greater efforts to thwart Chinese espionage, which many believe has enabled Beijing to develop a range of advanced weaponry on the back of stolen American technology.
James Anderson, a former acting undersecretary of defense for policy, said China stole U.S. military technology for developing its J-20 fighter jet and has benefited immensely.
“They have profited greatly from their thievery over the years,” he said. “They’ve put it to good use, and they’ve come up with an advanced fifth-generation fighter,” noting that it’s “hard to say, short of actual combat,” how the J-20 matches up against the U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter.
Matthew Brazil is a researcher and writer with Jamestown Foundation who served in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he both promoted and controlled U.S. high-technology exports to China. He said the FBI doesn’t have enough people to keep track of China’s activities in the U.S.
Brazil told VOA Mandarin, “Chinese communist espionage is not like an army of cockroaches crawling up our arms with daggers between their teeth. It’s spying. We can handle it with a better counterespionage system that includes both the government and the private sector working more closely together.”
He noted the FBI lacks “enough agents trained in Chinese language, culture and area studies. Congress should step in here and fund this sort of program to train people.”
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner last month urged the Biden administration to expand the use of existing tools and authorities at the Treasury and Commerce departments to prevent China’s military-industrial complex and entities from benefiting from U.S. technology, talent and investments.
As of March 14, Warner’s office told VOA Mandarin, “We have not yet received a response and are following up with the relevant departments.”
VOA Mandarin emailed the Chinese Embassy in Washington asking for a comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. Anderson, who made his remarks to Fox News Digital last week, was sworn in on June 8, 2020, and resigned in November 2020.
US tech in Chinese weapons
China claims to have independently developed its fifth-generation stealth fighter J-20, which entered service in 2017. John Chipman, head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said on February 15 at an IISS event that China’s J-20A production is expected to surpass that of the U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter jet by the end of 2023.
China’s sixth-generation fighter jets, hypersonic weapons and missiles, and even the spy balloons that crossed the continental United States last month all appear to incorporate elements of American technology, according to DefenseOne, a Washington news site devoted to military issues.
U.S. defense officials say China has the world’s leading hypersonic arsenal.
Terry Thompson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and war planner at the Pentagon who blogs, told VOA Mandarin that China lacks a solid technological foundation and has a long history of stealing technology.
He said, “If you look back at the epic progression of Chinese aircraft, they say they’ve produced an aircraft that looks like and flies like the F-16 and like the F-15 and the F-18. I mean, they look just like our aircraft. They’re not building something new that comes from their own base of technology. They don’t have a base of technology.”
Thompson said China targets engine and power system technology, but also “the aerodynamics. They didn’t have the capability to coat airplanes with stealth material. They stole that from us.
“But now China is making its way right up to the table that the rest of the free world is playing on, because they are just stealing their pathway to that table.”
Old-style spies and cyberattacks
Anderson told Fox News Digital that China’s intelligence practices include the old-fashioned — spies and bribes to buy American contractors, university professors and government officials — and high-tech cyberactivity to steal key information on military weapons.
“In effect, we end up subsidizing a portion of their research and development budget because they are successfully stealing some of our secrets,” Anderson said.
Kris Osborn, president and editor-in-chief of the U.S. Military Modernization Center, said in an article published last month that China has hired at least 162 Chinese scientists who had worked at the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory on deep-penetrating warheads, new hardened heat-resistant nanocomposite materials, vertical-takeoff-and-landing drones and a new generation of submarine “quiet” technologies.
“However, to put things simply and clearly, many of the U.S.-driven technological advances in these critical areas appear to have been stolen by Chinese spies,” Osborn wrote.
A report published in April 2022 by BluePath Labs, a consulting firm commissioned by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said, “Despite a wide body of research on China’s scientific progress, the laboratory system remains a less understood component. … This opacity not only leads to gaps in our knowledge of Chinese defense research, but in many cases has allowed these labs to fly under the radar, leading to cases of close interaction, and even cooperation between Chinese defense labs and U.S. and allied academic institutions.”
In 2023, China’s military expenditure will expand significantly, by 7.2% to $224.8 billion, according to the official budget discussed in an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
When meeting with a delegation of the People’s Liberation Army and the Armed Police Force on March 8, China’s President Xi Jinping said China should accelerate the promotion of high-level technological self-reliance.
Emily de La Bruyere, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA Mandarin that China wants semiconductor technology for military functions, development of algorithms and valuable data.
“Stealing technology has been an escalating priority. And I also say that just general aggressiveness of China when it comes to the development of these capabilities, but also its use of international presence in order to coerce – all of those are increasing,” she said. “Not only are they working to catch up, but also if they’re stealing technology from the international system for their military modernization, they’re then able to modernize more cheaply than anybody else.”
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.