NEW DELHI: Head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher Wray has warned that acts of espionage and theft by China pose the “greatest long-term threat” to the future of the US. Speaking at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, Wray spoke of a multi-pronged disruption campaign the government in the world’s most populous country was running against its own nationals living abroad, coercing their return.
The comments are seen as ratcheting up tensions between the US and China – already on a high over disagreements on issues relating to trade and the spread of covid-19. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted at the US banning Chinese mobile phone apps like the ByteDance-owned TikTok – a video sharing platform – which India banned first last month. India’s move came amid spiraling tensions with China along their common border and the worst military clash in 45 years in which 20 Indian army personnel were killed on 15 June.
Two US aircraft carriers are in the South China Sea amid deepening strains in ties between China and its smaller Southeast Asian neighbours from Vietnam to Malaysia and Indonesia with Beijing claiming almost all of the strategic waterway.
Besides the US, China also has strained ties with Australia, Canada, Japan and many others.
In his hour long speech on Tuesday, the FBI Director outlined a stark picture of Chinese interference, a far-reaching campaign of economic espionage, data and monetary theft and illegal political activities, using bribery and blackmail to influence US policy.
“We’ve now reached a point where the FBI is now opening a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours,” Wray said. “Of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China.”
Pointing an accusing finger directly at Xi Jinping, Wray said the Chinese president had spearheaded a programme called “Fox Hunt”, geared at Chinese nationals living abroad seen as threats to the Chinese government.
“We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations,” he said. “The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking.”
In an appeal seen as unusual, Wray asked Chinese-born people living in the US to contact the FBI if Chinese officials target them seeking their return.
The Chinese government has defended this programme in the past, saying it is part of a legitimate anti-corruption effort, according to a BBC report.
The threat posed by China will be further addressed by the US attorney general and secretary of state in coming weeks, Wray said.
“It’s the people of the US who are victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history. If you are an American adult it is more likely than not that china has stolen your personal data,” he added.
China was also working to compromise US coronavirus research, he said in what Reuters and US media reports said was an unusual address in which Wray also spoke about US charges that China was using espionage, cyber theft, blackmail and other means as part of a strategy to replace the US as the world’s dominant economic and technological power.
“The stakes could not be higher,” Wray said adding: “China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.”