FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that China is “the greatest long-term threat” to the US and detailed alleged and secretive Chinese plots to steal US state secrets and forcibly repatriate its citizens abroad.
Speaking at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, Wray called China’s clandestine operations “the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality.”
He said China has used undercover agents to steal state secrets through a talent recruitment program known as the Thousand Talents Program, used hackers to steal corporate and personal data to help develop the country’s artificial intelligence capabilities, and engaged in bribery and blackmail as part of a “highly sophisticated malign foreign influence campaign.”
“The Chinese government is engaged in a broad, diverse campaign of theft and malign influence, and it can execute that campaign with authoritarian efficiency,” Wray said in his remarks. “They’re calculating. They’re persistent. They’re patient. And they’re not subject to the righteous constraints of an open, democratic society or the rule of law.”
He continued: “China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion, and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and all-sectors approach —and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors approach in response.”
China has previously denied that it engages in cyber espionage against the US.
In addition, Wray said China has “brazenly violated well-settled norms and the rule of law” by attempting to coerce its citizens to return home in order to muzzle criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
Wray said Chinese President Xi Jinping has spearheaded a program known as “Fox Hunt,” which China describes as an “anti-corruption campaign.” He said the program, which has been in operation since 2014, “is a sweeping bid by [Xi] to target Chinese nationals whom he sees as threats and who live outside China, across the world.”
“Hundreds of the Fox Hunt victims that they target live right here in the United States, and many are American citizens or green card holders,” he said.
“The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking. For example, when it couldn’t locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the target’s family here in the United States. The message they said to pass on? The target had two options: return to China promptly, or commit suicide.”
He continued: “And what happens when Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China? In the past, their family members both here in the United States and in China have been threatened and coerced, and those back in China have even been arrested for leverage.”
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to Business Insider for comment.
Part of a larger global operation
There have been several instances in recent years where Chinese nationals have been threatened or kidnapped, seemingly at Beijing’s behest. In May 2018, a Chinese student was reportedly kidnapped and taken to a California airport in an incident that police deemed “very strange.”
Foreign Policy reported in 2018 that Western intelligence officials are concerned over what appears to be a large-scale operation to forcibly repatriate individuals to China. The report cites kidnappings of businessmen, ex-Communist Party officials, and activists — some of whom are citizens of other countries.
In January 2017, Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire, was reportedly kidnapped from his luxury apartment in Hong Kong sent back to mainland China, after possibly being sedated and rolled away in a wheelchair.
In October 2015, Gui Minhai, a Hong-Kong based bookseller with Swedish citizenship, disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand and resurfaced in Chinese custody months later. After his release, he disappeared a second time in January this year and his whereabouts remain unclear.
The practice appears to have occurred for nearly two decades.
In 2005, Chen Yonglin, a Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia, claimed kidnappings in Australia were carried out at least once a year. Chen also said security forces drugged and kidnapped the son of a former Chinese official and sent him back to China via a shipping vessel, though Australian officials and the alleged victim reportedly deny the claims.
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