US, UK law enforcement chiefs unite to warn of Chinese spying threat

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, left, and FBI Director Christopher Wray attend a joint press conference at MI5 headquarters, in central London, Wednesday July 6, 2022. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

The heads of the FBI and the United Kingdom’s (U.K.) MI5 warned against what they described as a sweeping Chinese espionage threat during a rare joint appearance in London on Wednesday.

FBI Director Christopher Wray and MI5 Director General Ken McCallum detailed the potential calamities before an audience of business and academic leaders, arguing China’s efforts to steal technology, maintain hidden investments and control business operations in China extend to companies of all sizes and industries.

“The Chinese government poses an even more serious threat to Western businesses than even many sophisticated businesspeople realize,” Wray said.

Wednesday’s appearance marked the first time the leaders of the FBI and MI5 shared a public platform, according to McCallum.

Wray said he was not advising companies to avoid doing business in or with China altogether, but he implored businesses to “take the long view” and work with U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies to better understand the threat and mitigate cyberattacks.

“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology — whatever it is that makes your industry tick — and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” Wray said. “And they’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it.”

Law enforcement has even caught people affiliated with Chinese companies sneaking into U.S. fields to dig up genetically modified seeds, Wray added.

“Consider that it may be a lot cheaper to preserve your intellectual property now than to lose your competitive advantage and have to build a new one down the road,” he said.

Wray also pointed to concerns that China may attempt to invade Taiwan militarily. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has further sparked concerns that Beijing might be learning lessons for its own regional expansion plans.

Wray argued an invasion of Taiwan would represent “one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen,” warning that the FBI has picked up on efforts by China to insulate their economy against potential sanctions.

“In our world, we call that kind of behavior a clue,” he said.

The comments echo a warning from Taiwan’s top trade negotiator, who last month said a Chinese military attack on the island would harm the global economy more than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A bulletin issued by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center on Wednesday offered a similar warning about the Chinese espionage threat, saying the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under President Xi Jinping has sought to “exploit” relationships between China and government and business leaders at the state and local levels.

“PRC influence operations can be deceptive and coercive, with seemingly benign business opportunities or people-to-people exchanges sometimes masking PRC political agendas,” it said.

McCallum on Wednesday described the threat as a “strategic contest across decades,” rather than something that could be dealt with quickly.

“No set of guidance can cater with precision for each and every situation: I’m afraid I can’t make this simple for you,” he told the business and academic leaders gathered in London. “The answers have to lie in combining our unique knowledge of the threats with your unique knowledge of your business.”

Tags China Christopher Wray Christopher Wray FBI

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