Tensions Mount over China’s Industrial Espionage in US

Tensions between the U.S. and China are escalating at a dizzying pace, with July 24 marking the lowest point of bilateral relations in decades. On that day, the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, was closed and taken over by U.S. officials.FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, July 15, 2020.“We announced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft,” said Secretary of State FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington.The FBI created a special economic espionage unit in 2010, and currently has over 2,000 active cases related to Chinese counterintelligence operations in the U.S. FBI director Christopher Wray recently said the bureau is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 minutes.Economic espionage is certainly nothing new. When the U.S. passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the focus was on Israel and France, and China wasn’t really in the picture.Hvistendahl said the shift of focus started in the mid-2000s, when the business community decided to join the intelligence community to address the issue. These U.S. companies had previously hoped that if they kept their mouths shut, they could eventually break into the Chinese market and begin to see significant market growth.“By the mid-2000s, it became clear to many companies that it was just not going to happen, they were going to get shut out of the market eventually,” Hvistendahl told VOA. “So many CEOs started to be more vocal about some of the problems that they have received with China.”The impact on the U.S. economy through loss of intellectual property (IP) is one of the main concerns among U.S. policy makers. According to a 2017 report by the Intellectual Property Commission, the cost of IP theft for the United States is somewhere between $225 billion and $600 billion. And China is responsible for 71% to 87% of that figure. (The percentage varies annually.) Apart from economic loss, there is also loss of domestic production capabilities, loss of industries, and loss of jobs along the way.Eric Zhang, former chief representative of the Oklahoma Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Office in China, told VOA that America is also realizing the potential security threat posed by these China-related industrial espionage activities.“Espionage activities in other countries are mainly for economic gain, but China is different. Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has started to deem the United States as a competitor, especially in terms of military,” said Zhang. “In this sense, the purpose of Chinese industrial espionage is different from that of other countries. This is why the U.S. is very concerned now.”Full-scale effortUnder the Trump administration, federal authorities have launched full-scale efforts to ferret out economic espionage.In some high-profile cases, the FBI has recently arrested four Chinese research scientists in the U.S. who concealed their relations with Chinese military during their visa applications. Apart from the FBI, the Justice Department has also launched the China Initiative in 2018, with the goal of identifying and prosecuting those engaged in economic espionage, trade secret theft, hacking and other related crimes. Yet Zhang said that although there has been ample pushback, China has not slowed down its pace of stealing innovative technologies and trade secrets from developed countries.“Innovative technology is key to China’s economic growth, which is [a primary means] to legitimize CCP (Chinese Communist Party) rule. So if they can’t get anything from the U.S., I think Beijing will strengthen its economic espionage efforts in other developed countries,” Zhang said.Hvistendahl warns that when addressing the issue of industrial espionage and IP theft, the U.S. needs to be careful and avoid discrimination.“You have to keep in mind that much of the research force in the U.S. is ethnic Chinese. So you have to deal with the issue in a way that it’s fair, that doesn’t give way to allegations of racial profiling, ethnic bias,” she said.She added that it’s to America’s own benefit to keep the U.S. as an innovative place to which researchers from all over the world would want to come and study. 

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Trump Orders US Ban on WeChat, TikTok in 45 Days

U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders on Thursday banning any U.S. transactions with ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, owner of the WeChat app, starting in 45 days.The orders come as the Trump administration said this week it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and called the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok and messenger app WeChat “significant threats.”The TikTok app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”The order would effectively ban WeChat in the United States in 45 days by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”Trump said this week he would support the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price but warned he will ban the service in the United States on September 15.Tencent and ByteDance declined to comment.    

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Twitter Announces Labels for State-Controlled Media

Twitter announced its decision Thursday to label the accounts of state-controlled media outlets.  
 
The new label will apply exclusively to “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution,” according to a Twitter blog post.  
 
So far, the labels are confirmed to apply to accounts for China Daily, Russia Today, and Sputnik, as well as several other media outlets. According to the company’s post, they “are starting with a limited and clearly-defined group of countries before expanding to a wider range of countries in the future.”  
 
Twitter also has plans to label the accounts of some government leaders, including ambassadors and foreign ministers.  
 
These decisions arrive partially as a response to public criticism for the way social media outlets have dealt with foreign interference and disinformation. Much of this criticism stems from the Russian disinformation campaign prior to the 2016 U.S. election, much of which took place on Twitter.  
 
These announcements could face potential backlash, possibly from U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweets daily on the site.  
 
The company has had issues with the Trump campaign in the past. Twitter locked the president’s campaign account Wednesday for breaking its COVID-19 disinformation rules after the account tweeted a video of the president saying children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.  
 
Some Republicans also have maintained that Twitter and other social media outlets specifically censor conservative views in an effort to suppress their positions on various issues. 
 

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Facebook, Citing Virus Misinformation, Deletes Trump Post

Facebook has deleted a post by President Donald Trump for violating its policy against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
The post in question featured a link to a Fox News video in which Trump says children are “virtually immune” to the virus.
Facebook said Wednesday that the “video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.”
A few hours later, Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump campaign from tweeting from its account, until it removed a post with the same video. Trump’s account retweeted the video. The company said in a statement late Wednesday that the tweet violated its rules against COVID misinformation. When a tweet breaks its rules, Twitter asks users to remove the tweet in question and bans them from posting anything else until they do.
Twitter has generally been quicker than Facebook in recent months to label posts from the president that violate its policies against misinformation and abuse.
This is not the first time that Facebook has removed a post from Trump, Facebook said, but it’s the first time it has done so because it was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. The company has also labeled his posts.
Several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children  are less likely to become infected  than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms. But this is not the same as being “virtually immune” to the virus.
A CDC study involving 2,500 children published in April found that about 1 in 5 infected children were hospitalized versus 1 in 3 adults; three children died. The study lacks complete data on all the cases, but it also suggests that many infected children have no symptoms, which could allow them to spread the virus to others.

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US Justice Department Asks Court to Block California Net Neutrality Law

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday asked a federal judge to block California’s net neutrality law, arguing that federal law preempts the state statute.In October, a U.S. appeals court largely upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeal of landmark U.S. net neutrality rules. In 2018, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until a final court decision on the FCC repeal.The Trump FCC in 2017 voted 3-2 to toss out Obama-era rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes. The California law would reinstate those prohibitions in the state.The U.S. government is seeking a preliminary injunction to block California from being able to enforce its law.The California attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the Justice Department’s filing “and look forward to defending California’s state net neutrality protections.”The 2017 FCC 3-2 vote was applauded by internet service providers (ISPs), as it gave them sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes. The new rules took effect in June 2018, but service providers have yet to change how users access the internet.The California law was applauded by large tech companies and consumer groups that had championed the level playing field of net neutrality.The appeals court, in its October decision, also ruled the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it expressly declared states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws.The Justice Department said despite that ruling that it still believes California’s net neutrality law is preempted by federal law. A decision on the Justice Department action is not expected before mid-October, according to a court schedule. 

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India Widens China App Ban to Cover More From Xiaomi, Baidu

India has banned some mobile apps of Chinese companies such as Xiaomi Corp and Baidu Inc, three sources told Reuters on Wednesday, in New Delhi’s latest move to hit Chinese companies following a border clash between the neighbors.
 
India in June outlawed 59 Chinese apps for threatening the country’s “sovereignty and integrity,” including ByteDance’s video-sharing app TikTok, Alibaba’s UC Browser and Xiaomi’s Mi Community app.
 
Another ban was imposed in recent weeks on about 47 apps which mostly contained clones, or simply different versions, of the already banned apps, the sources said.
 
Unlike its June move, the government did not make its latest decision public, but there are a few new apps that have made it to that list, including Xiaomi’s Mi Browser Pro and Baidu’s search apps, the sources said.
 
It wasn’t immediately clear how many new apps have been affected.
 
India’s IT Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi did not respond to a request for comment. China has previously criticized India’s decision to ban the apps.
 
A spokesman for Xiaomi in India said the company was trying to understand the development and will take appropriate measures. Baidu declined to comment.
 
A ban on the Mi Browser, which comes pre-loaded on most Xiaomi smartphones, could potentially mean the Chinese firm will need to stop installing it on new devices it sells in India.
 
Xiaomi is India’s No.1 smartphone seller with close to 90 million users, according to Hong Kong-based tech researcher Counterpoint.
 
The bans are part of India’s moves to counter China’s dominant presence in the country’s internet services market following a border clash in June between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
 
India has also made approval processes more stringent for Chinese companies wanting to invest in the country, and also tightened norms for Chinese companies wanting to participate in government tenders.

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