China has a plan for using industrial
espionage to turn their country into the mightiest industrial and military
power on the planet. For over two decades, China has been attempting to do what
the Soviet Union never accomplished; steal Western technology, then use it to
move ahead of the West. The Soviets lacked the many essential supporting
industries found in the West (most founded and run by entrepreneurs), and was
never able to get all the many pieces needed to match Western technical
accomplishments. Soviet copies of American computers, for example, were crude,
less reliable and less powerful. Same with their jet fighters, tanks and
China believes they can avoid the
Soviet error by making it profitable for Western firms to set up factories in
China, where Chinese managers and workers can be taught how to make things
right. At the same time. China allows thousands of their best students to go to
the United States to study. While most of these students will stay in America,
where there are better jobs and more opportunities, some will come back to
China, and bring American business and technical skills with them. Finally,
China energetically uses the "thousand grains of sand" approach to espionage.
This involves China trying to get all Chinese going overseas, and those of
Chinese ancestry living outside the motherland, to spy for China, if only a
This approach to espionage is nothing
new. Other nations have used similar systems for centuries. What is unusual is
the scale of the Chinese effort. Backing
it all up is a Chinese intelligence bureaucracy back home that is huge, with
nearly 100,000 people working just to keep track of the many Chinese overseas,
and what they could, or should, be to trying to grab for the motherland. It
begins when Chinese intelligence officials examining who is going overseas, and
for what purpose. Chinese citizens cannot leave the country, legally, without
the state security organizations being notified. The intel people are not being
asked to give permission. They are being alerted in case they want to have a
talk with students, tourists or business people before they leave the country.
Interviews are often held when these people come back as well.
Those who might be coming in contact
with useful information are asked to remember what they saw, or bring back
souvenirs. Over 100,000 Chinese students go off to foreign universities each
year. Even more go abroad as tourists or on business. Most of these people were
not asked to actually act as spies, but simply to share, with Chinese
government officials (who are not always identified as intelligence personnel)
whatever information they obtained. The more ambitious of these people are
getting caught and prosecuted. But the majority, who are quite casual, and,
individually, bring back relatively little, are almost impossible to catch.
Like the Russians, the Chinese are also
using the traditional methods, using people with diplomatic immunity to recruit
spies, and offering cash, or whatever, to get people to sell them information.
This is still effective, and when combined with the "thousand grains of sand"
methods, brings in lots of secrets. The final ingredient is a shadowy venture
capital operations, sometimes called Project 863, that offers money for Chinese
entrepreneurs who will turn the stolen technology into something real. No
questions asked. If you can get back to China with the secrets, you are home
free and potentially very rich.
But there are some legal problems. When
the Chinese steal some technology, and produce something that the Western
victims can prove was stolen (via patents and prior use of the technology),
legal action can make it impossible, or very difficult, to sell anything using
the stolen tech, outside of China. For that reason, the Chinese like to steal
military technology. This kind of stuff rarely leaves China. And in some cases,
like manufacturing technology, there's an advantage to not selling it outside
of China. Because China is still a communist dictatorship, the courts do as
they are told, and they are rarely told to honor foreign patent claims.