Attorney General Bill Barr said on Sunday that the Justice Department is cracking down on Chinese intelligence gathering operations targeting the United States.
“The way I look at is: This is a fundamental challenge to the United States,” Mr. Barr said on Fox News.
The technological leadership America has enjoyed since the late 19th century is threatened by China’s covert and other efforts to obtain U.S. technology and replace the U.S. as the world’s superpower.
“In the last decade or so, China has been putting on a great push to supplant us, explicitly,” Mr. Barr said.
The Justice Department has launched a China initiative that has involved arrests, prosecutions and other legal action against Chinese nationals and their U.S. agents, including many at American universities and research institutes. On nearly on a weekly basis, the department has announced some type of action against a Chinese espionage-related activity.
Mr. Barr said Chinese intelligence collection is “very aggressive” and involves theft and cheating designed to overtake the U.S.
“They want to be the leader in all the future technologies that are going to dominate the economy,” he said. “They have stolen our intellectual property. When they steal our secrets about future technology, they’re stealing the future of the American people.”
On Chinese exploitation of American researchers, Mr. Barr said the department and law enforcement agencies are focused on ending the illicit cooperation.
“We are clearly cracking down on researchers and others that are sent over here to get involved in our key technological programs,” he said.
“And, by the way, this is not just weapons systems. This is agriculture. This is medicine. This is robotics. This is artificial intelligence and so forth. It’s the whole gamut of important technologies going forward.”
One area of particular concern has been China’s drive to dominate world markets in fifth generation telecommunications technology, or 5G.
Achieving such dominance would provide Beijing with “tremendous leverage over the United States,” Mr. Barr said.
“If all our industrial practices and our manufacturing practices are built on a platform that they dominate, they will have ultimate leverage over the West,” he added.
Mr. Barr said the Chinese have been unfairly competing in the world marketplace and President Trump has confronted Beijing as no other American leader has.
The U.S. business community is “a big part of the problem, because they’re willing, ultimately, many of them, to sacrifice the long-term viability of their companies for short-term profit, so they can get their stock options and move into the Gulf resort,” he said.
American business leaders are not taking a long-term view of dealing with China and need to support the concept of maintaining American strength.
Asked about those who refuse to regard doing business with China as a national security problem, Mr. Barr said: “We’re not speaking German today, because the American business [community] in the past didn’t think that way. They stood with the United States.”
Chinese technology collection operations run the gamut from traditional espionage such as recruiting agents to “cultivating relationships that they are then able to use,” he said.
“People frequently are not completely attuned to the fact that they are being used as essentially stooges for the Chinese,” Mr. Barr noted, adding that American businesses need to understand the problem.
Asked about Senate consideration of a proposal for the U.S. government to buy a stake in two telecommunications companies, Ericsson and Nokia, to compete more effectively with China in the race to deploy 5G, Mr. Barr said both companies are best positioned to challenge China’s Huawei Technologies.
Huawei equipment used around the world can be exploited by China’s intelligence services through remote access backdoors.
“I would say, there is certainly the capacity to do that, and a very high risk of that,” Mr. Barr said.
Huawei, an ostensibly private company, has the backing of the Chinese government that has created a $100 billion fund for its global 5G market expansion.
“So, they can go to countries and say, ‘Hey, we will put this in cash-free, very cheap money.’ So, that’s what we’re competing against with Huawei … companies like Ericsson and Nokia are the strongest Western competitors in this sector,” Mr. Barr said.
Nokia is a Finnish multinational corporation and Nokia is Swedish.
Mr. Barr said he is concerned China may try to take advantage of American attention focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China.
“I’m concerned that they might think that we are sufficiently distracted by Covid that we won’t be able to respond,” he said. “I am concerned that they may think the current environment is one in which they can push the envelope somewhat and take advantage of it.”
China has stepped up aggressive security and military activities in contested areas, including the India-China border, the South China Sea, in Hong Kong and toward rival Taiwan.
Mr. Barr said it is important for the United States to protect its leadership in technology by thwarting Chinese espionage and influence operations.
Rule in China by the Communist Party is “one of the great tragedies,” he said.
“The Chinese people are a great people, with a great history, very industrious and able,” Mr. Barr said. “The hope was that, by bringing them into the world system and economic system, there would be a liberalization of their government. But I think the Communist Party still has an iron grip on that country. And I think that’s unfortunate.”
On other issues, the attorney general said social unrest spawned by the death of George Floyd has degenerated into mob violence.
“We can’t be ruled by mobs. We have to be ruled by the legal process,” he said.
On the investigation into improper activities by the FBI in the Russian collusion investigation, Mr. Barr said the federal probe headed by John Durham likely will be completed by the end of the summer.
“I agree with you that it’s been stunning that all we have gotten from the mainstream media is sort of bovine silence in the face of the complete collapse of the so-called Russiagate scandal, which they did all they could to sensationalize and drive,” Mr. Barr told host Maria Bartiromo.
“And it’s, like, not even a whoops. They’re just onto the next false scandal. So, that has been surprising to me that people aren’t concerned about civil liberties and the integrity of our governmental process.”