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  • Writer's pictureOIS Global, LLC

The Enemy Among Us

Updated: May 7, 2020

China's Soft Power Programs, Technology Theft and How to Counter the Threat

The Grand Strategy

Imagine a world where Chinese nuclear armed submarines regularly patrol the waters of the Atlantic or their strategic bombers routinely conduct patrols throughout the Western Hemisphere out of a Chinese built airbase in South America. Well, this future might not be too far off if we don't step up our diplomatic and military efforts to counter their current actions. We are currently in a time of a great power competition where China and Russia are competing with us for global influence and to some degree, global dominance. Dominance not in the traditional sense of the word but dominance of global institutions, economic influence, dominance of industries, agriculture and natural resources. While the strategic end goals of Russia and China differ in some key areas, the area of which they share a common interest is in wanting to see the US displaced in the current global order thus giving them the ability to shape and influence the international community in areas such as global economic policy, technology and scientific development and crisis leadership.

China's current efforts are deeply rooted within precedent from China's ancient history, much like the nine-dash line and their claims in the South China Sea. China's history as the "middle kingdom" saw all the secondary and tertiary states on its borders existing to serve China's needs and interests. While this structure waned at the dawn of modern times, China seeks a return to this precedent where Africa and Asia are the secondary states and Europe, the US and Latin America are the tertiary states, existing to serve the needs of the central kingdom, that of China. This structure can clearly be seen through China's current Belt and Road Initiative, establishing ports, railroads and other critical infrastructure in strategic locations around the globe. Wherever China builds infrastructure it's military is sure to follow in an effort to allow for force projection to protect their interests.

While China's military developments, such as the serial production of the Jin SSBN and the production of their H-20 stealth bomber are alarming, what is more alarming are the activities which are going on right here in the homeland that enable China to steal the technology to support these force modernization efforts. China's numerous talent programs within the US are directly aimed at stealing technology to support their military-industrial research and development efforts. Is it any surprise that the H-20 bomber closely resembles our B-2 Spirit? I don't think so.

Confucius institutes at major US universities and the Thousand Talents Program within the US scientific and technology communities are part of China's soft power approach to harvesting intellectual property and technological know how to support the rapid development and fielding of new military platforms that support the Chinese Communist Party's global power goals. These programs each have their own organizational structures and operating mechanisms but the overarching concept is that they both aim to recruit ethnic individuals from US academic institutions and the latter, US industry, to acquire knowledge and technology to support China's military industrial complex. Both of these programs must be stopped due to the threat they pose to US national security and private sector innovation. While that looks unlikely to happen in the short term (many of these programs operate off of federal grants and funding), there are steps that the affected institutions can take to mitigate the risks that these programs pose to IP, data and science and technology theft. Knowledge is key. Educational institution and private corporation leadership need to be briefed on the the threat that these Chinese programs pose to certain departments within their organizations and alerted to potential indicators of nefarious activities within their programs so employees can be aware of what to report. Second, the organization should stand up an internal review team independent of their police or security department, which answers directly to the executive leadership team on matters of nefarious external state influence within their organization. This team should apply a simple operational security (OPSEC) process when examining the activities of any external state sponsored talent or exchange program. This process should aim to identify critical information that would be deemed valuable by an adversary, analyze the threat they pose to critical programs, assess the organization's overall vulnerabilities, assess the risk associated with losing IP, data, technology or knowledge and finally develop a strategy to build and apply countermeasures to prevent an individual from absconding with sensitive information.

By utilizing this approach, key organizational decision makers will have direct knowledge and oversight of these program's activities and be alerted to any potential questionable or criminal activity in order to work with law enforcement to address it swiftly. Universities and commercial corporations must take this threat seriously. It not only harms their research and development efforts and retained scientific and technical knowledge but also poses broad threats to national security with serious strategic implications. We must take immediate action against this preventable threat or consign ourselves to face the bleak consequences.

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