FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday said China poses the “biggest long-term threat” to the economic and national security of the United States and Western allies, and warned that Beijing is “trying to shape the world” by interfering in politics, business and more.
Wray’s warning comes just months after the Biden Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, ended the Trump-era “China Initiative” program aimed at preventing spying by the Chinese Communist Party. The Biden administration, instead, replaced it with a broader approach to counter “nation-state threats.”
Wray, during a speech focused on “common threats” the U.S. and the United Kingdom face at the MI5 building in London Wednesday, said the FBI has “no closer partner than MI5” and the two agencies work together on “almost every mission” they confront, from “countering terrorism to cybertheft and transnational repression to espionage.”
Wray pointed to the “complex, enduring and pervasive danger” that China poses to both nations, and other Western allies.
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“We consistently see that it’s the Chinese government that poses the biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security, and by ‘our,’ I mean both of our nations, along with our allies in Europe and elsewhere,” Wray said, adding that “it is the Chinese government and the Chinese Community Party that pose the threat we’re focused on countering – not the Chinese people, and certainly not Chinese immigrants in our countries – who are themselves frequently victims of the Chinese government’s lawless aggression.”
Wray warned that the Chinese government “poses an even more serious threat to Western businesses than even many sophisticated business people realize,” and said the “danger” from China is “complex and growing.”
“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.”
Wray warned that Beijing uses intelligence officers to target valuable private sector information, multiplying their efforts by working extensively through scores of “co-optees,” people who aren’t technically Chinese government officials but assist in intelligence operations.
But it isn’t just large corporations China is keen on targeting. Wray said the CCP “wants to target companies in big cities to small towns, from Fortune 100s to start-ups,” specifically those in aviation, artificial intelligence and pharmaceuticals.
Wray said the FBI has “even caught people affiliated with Chinese companies out in the U.S. heartland, sneaking into fields to dig up proprietary, genetically modified seeds, which would have cost them nearly a decade and billions in research to develop themselves.”
But Wray said those efforts “pale in comparison to their lavishly resourced hacking program that’s bigger than that of every other major country – combined,” warning that Beijing views cyber as “the pathway to cheat and steal on a massive scale.”
Meanwhile, Wray also warned of China interfering in elections, pointing to one example in New York this spring.
“The Chinese government went so far as directly interfering in a congressional election in New York, because they did not want the candidate – a Tiananmen Square protester and critic of the Chinese government – to be elected.”
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Wray detailed their efforts, including the CCP hiring a private investigator to dig up derogatory info and derail the candidate’s campaign.
“But when they couldn’t find anything, they decided to manufacture a controversy using a sex worker, and when that didn’t work out, they even suggested using violence, such as arranging for the candidate to be struck by a vehicle and making it look like an accident,” Wray explained.
“The Chinese government is trying to shape the world by interfering in our politics, and those of our allies,” Wray said. “All of that is to say – China poses a far more complex and pervasive threat to businesses than even the most sophisticated company leaders realize.”
Wray encouraged business leaders to coordinate with the FBI and MI5 in order to protect themselves.
But Wray also warned that China is emboldened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with regard to its ambitions to take Taiwan.
“When it comes to the threat against Taiwan… I’m confident in saying that China is drawing all sorts of lessons from what’s happening with Russia and its invasion of Ukraine,” Wray said, noting that the FBI has seen China “looking for ways to insulate their economy against potential sanctions” to protect themselves from “harm if they do anything to draw the ire of the international community.”
“In our world, we call that kind of behavior a clue,” Wray said.
Wray warned that “if China does invade Taiwan,” Western allies could see “supply chains and relationships disrupted.”
But Wray said the U.S. and the U.K., together are “confronting this threat and winning important battles.”
“All of us in America, in the U.K., and across the free world, are in this together,” Wray said. “And together, we’re an awfully formidable team.”
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As for Taiwan, in March, the intelligence community annual threat assessment was released with data through January. It warned that China is increasingly a “near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas – especially economically, militarily and technologically – and is pushing to change global norms and potentially threatening its neighbors.”
The intelligence community warned that Beijing is using a coordinated approach to compel neighbors to “acquiesce” to its preferences, “including its territorial and maritime claims and assertions of sovereignty over Taiwan.”
“Beijing will press Taiwan to move toward unification and will react to what it views as increased U.S.–Taiwan engagement,” the IC states. “We expect that friction will grow as China continues to increase military activity around the island and Taiwan’s leaders resist Beijing’s pressure for progress toward unification.”
In April, CIA Director William Burns issued a similar warning to Wray’s – also noting that China has been “a silent partner” in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
Burns, at the time, said China is “in many ways, the most profound tests the CIA has ever faced,” calling China a “formidable competitor lacking in neither ambition nor capability.”
Meanwhile, as for the DOJ’s move to abolish the Trump-era “China Initiative,” Justice Department officials were concerned that the program stoked anti-Asian bias after receiving input from the Asian American community.
The DOJ replaced the program with the “Strategy for Countering Nation-State Threats,” saying the “current threat landscape” demanded “a broader approach,” and cited not just China, but Iran, Russia and North Korea.
“These nations seek to undermine our core democratic, economic and scientific institutions,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division said in March. “And they employ a growing range of tactics to advance their interests and to harm the United States. Defending American institutions and values against these threats is a national security imperative and a priority for the Department.”
Olsen, though, insisted that the new approach does not mean that the agency is losing sight of the threat China poses.
“Make no mistake, we will be relentless in defending our country from China,” Olsen said.