FBI Director Christopher Wray announced that China is threatening national security with its efforts to steal sensitive technology and proprietary information from U.S. companies, academic institutions and other organizations. 

According to an FBI press release, Wray described the threat from China as “diverse” and “multi-layered” at the Department of Justice China Initiative Conference held February 6, 2020 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He noted that the Chinese government exploits the openness of the American economy and society. “They’ve pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors,” Wray said. 

Wray told the audience that China is targeting everything from agricultural techniques to medical devices in its efforts to get ahead economically. While this is sometimes done legally, such as through company acquisitions, China often takes illegal approaches, including cyber intrusions and corporate espionage, says the FBI. 

“They’ve shown that they’re willing to steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense,” he said. The FBI is using traditional law enforcement techniques, as well as its intelligence capabilities to combat these threats. He said the FBI currently has about 1,000 investigations into Chinese technology theft.

Just last month, a Harvard University professor was charged with lying about his contractual arrangement with China.

Wray also called for a whole-of-society response to these threats. He urged U.S. companies to carefully consider their supply lines and whether and how they do business with Chinese companies. "While a partnership with a Chinese company may seem profitable today, a U.S. company may find themselves losing their intellectual property in the long run," says the FBI. 

Additionally, U.S. universities should work to protect their foreign students from coercion from foreign governments, Wray said. He noted, however, that these threats do not mean the U.S. shouldn’t welcome Chinese students or visitors.

“What it does mean is that when China violates our criminal laws and well-established international norms, we are not going to tolerate it, much less enable it,” he said. “The Department of Justice and the FBI are going to hold people accountable for that and protect our nation’s innovation and ideas.”