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Trumping China on technology theft is necessary for American security

Trumping China on technology theft is necessary for American security
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For decades, China’s systematic assault on U.S. intellectual property has steadily eroded our economic and military advantages, with little serious reaction from the United States. China’s economy has grown, in part fueled by the illicit appropriation of American technology, while the military balance is ever more advantageous to Beijing.

U.S. inaction finally ended with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE’s announcement of investment restrictions on China and the imposition of tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese technology exports. The decision comes after a lengthy investigation, conducted by the U.S. trade representative, into China’s theft and forced transfer of intellectual property.

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The economic implications of China’s actions are devastating. The investigation found that China’s intellectual property theft costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually. The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property has estimated that intellectual property theft, mostly perpetrated by China, amounts to $1.2 trillion in damages.

Even more concerning is the steady erosion of the military balance between the United States and China. Much of this is attributable to the technological advances China has gained through the theft or forced transfer of U.S. technology, as well as evasion of U.S. export controls on militarily sensitive technologies. As the Pentagon’s report last year to Congress on China’s military capabilities notes, China uses a variety of methods to degrade the U.S. military technological advantage, including “cyber theft, targeted foreign direct investment, and exploitation of the access of private Chinese nationals to such technologies.”

In its 2016 report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission documented the extent of Chinese theft and espionage against America’s defense contractors and national security agencies. The commission concluded that “China’s intelligence collection operations targeting U.S. defense industrial entities, and its acquisition of sensitive defense technology, could undermine U.S. military superiority by accelerating China’s military modernization and giving China insight into the capabilities and operation of U.S. weapons and weapons systems.”

In short, China is challenging American security and prosperity. To sustain this challenge, Beijing is harvesting the fruits of U.S. technological innovation both for economic and military purposes. According to public sources, China has used the theft of sensitive American technology in the development of the J-20 and FC-31, its most advanced military aircraft. Other technologies that reportedly have been compromised include the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, which is currently defending South Korea against North Korea’s missile program, the Patriot missile interceptor, which protects U.S. and allied forces against Iran’s missile ambitions, and the Aegis system onboard many U.S. Navy warships.

Beijing’s assault on U.S. military technology also includes such bulwarks of American defense as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, the V-22 Osprey aircraft, the F/A-18 aircraft, the Global Hawk surveillance drone, and the C-17 transport aircraft. As spelled out in Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, the capture of emerging technologies like autonomy, artificial intelligence and robotics will be critical in the military competitions of the 21st century. China has made clear that it will use any means to dominate these sectors for both civilian and military purposes.

Taken together, Beijing’s attempt to compromise our military advantage spans air, land, sea and space, includes both legacy and emerging technology. It is informed by China’s understanding of the United States as its principal geopolitical competitor and Beijing’s belief that U.S. military power must be contained and eventually neutralized in order for China to attain a dominant role in Asia and on the world stage.

President Trump’s actions may be interpreted in many quarters as simply keeping his economic and trade policy promises to defend the crown jewels of American technology. In reality, the imposition of tariffs and investment restrictions on China is a critical part of recognizing that the United States is engaged in a sustained competition with China across the economic, political and military spheres.

The Chinese know what is at stake. It is past time for our government to understand it as well. By thinking strategically about the nexus between economic and military power and understanding the breath of China’s plans and methods, President Trump is placing the United States in a much stronger strategic position for the competition ahead.

Jim Talent is a former U.S. senator and representative from Missouri. He served 12 years on the armed services committees while in Congress. He is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Bipartisan Policy Center. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.