On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that Google’s work in China is not a security concern. As he told CNBC, “I don’t see any area — again the president and I did diligence on this issue — and we’re not aware of any areas where Google is working with the Chinese government in any way that raises concerns.”
No concerns at all?
Google’s most disturbing Chinese initiatives involve the co-development of technology. Cooperation of this sort is so injurious to the United States that it should be criminalized, by emergency presidential order.
Google, the Alphabet Inc. unit, also believes its projects in China are benign. “We are not working with the Chinese military,” a Google spokesperson said in the middle of March.
The denial was clear and unambiguous. It was, as far as is publicly known, true.
Google’s words, however, were exceedingly deceptive. Google is a participant in ventures in China that it must know directly benefit the People’s Liberation Army, the military of the Communist Party.
Google has two cooperative partnerships and one investment that are of special concern. First, the company runs the Google AI China Center, established in 2017 in Beijing.
Second, Google is participating in AI research at Tsinghua University, one of China’s two premier institutions, and is working with Peking University, the other top institution.
All three ventures are nominally civilian.
So why is Google’s categorical denial deceptive? In China today, Xi Jinping, the ambitious ruler, has vigorously promoted a trend he inherited from Hu Jintao, his predecessor: “civil-military fusion.” “Fusion,” as the word implies, means all civilian research is pipelined into the military.
Patrick Shanahan, when he was acting Defense secretary, discussed Mr. Xi’s policy. “The fusion of commercial business with military is significant,” he said in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The technology that is developed in the civil world transfers to the military world.”
Closely linked to civil-military integration is Chinese criminality. As Mr. Shanahan mentioned in March, “there’s also systematic theft of U.S. technology that facilitates even faster development of emerging technology.”
At the moment, Google’s activities in China do not appear to contravene American law, but they are highly injurious to American national security, especially because the company has turned its back on the Pentagon. Google has announced it is not renewing the Project Maven contract, an AI project, with the Defense Department and it is not competing for the DOD’s JEDI cloud computing project.
There is one way to put a stop to conduct that Peter Thiel, the tech investor, this month correctly called “seemingly treasonous.” President Trump, referring to Mr. Thiel’s comments, tweeted his administration would “take a look” into Google.
Besides looking, there’s something else the leader of the free world can do: Issue an emergency order to stop Google and other companies from participating in tech ventures in China. Congress can then make such a ban permanent with legislation.
The time to issue that order would be now. “Google’s tech development investments in China are for the long-term,” Brandon Weichert, a national security analyst specializing in emerging technology, told The Washington Times last week. To build for the long term, Google, he says, has two areas of special interest in China.
First, Mr. Weichert predicts Google’s AI research in China will push the company to develop cloud computing capabilities, and in this regard Google is already “starting to align” with Tencent, the Chinese Internet giant, on this matter. In January of last year, Alphabet cross-licensed technology with that firm and has been in talks with several potential partners about bringing cloud services to China.
Second, Google will also need quantum computing capacity. To get that, Mr. Weichert says, Google will be pushed into some sort of arrangement with the University of Science and Technology of China, which is a partner in a quantum computing laboratory in Anhui province. The lab is linked with the People’s Liberation Army. “Rest assured, unfortunately, once China’s quantum computing center is complete it will be impossible for Google to resist going there and helping the Chinese in their research,” Mr. Weichert, also publisher of the Weichert Report, says.
Beijing has every reason in the world to partner with Google to obtain technology. In some areas, like quantum communications, China has surpassed the United States. In areas where the United States is ahead, Beijing is making big investments and getting the Googles of the world to help China.
Many say American innovation will suffer if U.S. companies are not allowed to cooperate with Chinese counterparts, and there is truth in that, especially in the short-term. In the long-term, however, U.S. companies will suffer by going into China. Beijing will do its best to make sure foreign firms will not be allowed to benefit from their Chinese ventures.
How do we know that? There’s a sad history of foreign business in China. Moreover, Xi Jinping has made it clear, with his Made in China 2025 initiative, that he intends his regime to dominate 11 designated tech sectors in a half decade. CM2025, as the plan is known in China, may be a grossly inefficient state effort, but the selfish character of the program is clear.
In the meantime, with each investment Western firms make into China, the People’s Liberation Army benefits. Mr. Mnuchin should know that. Google undoubtedly does. Mr. Trump must stop it.
• Gordon G. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.