Attorney General William Barr accused the Chinese Communist Party of “stealing the future of the American people” as he detailed how the U.S. government is pushing back against the national security threat posed by theft and espionage suspected of being carried out by China.
Barr, whose tenure as attorney general has seen the Justice Department ramp up its pressure against Chinese malign foreign influence inside the United States, told host Maria Bartiromo on Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures that Beijing posed a threat to the future of U.S. economic prosperity and technological superiority. He also implored U.S. businesses to show loyalty to their home country and lamented the “iron grip” that the Chinese Communist Party still holds in China.
“This is a fundamental challenge to the United States. Since the late 19th century, our opportunity and our growth, our prosperity as a country has come from our technological leadership,” Barr said, adding, “In the last decade or so, China has been putting on a great push to supplant us, explicitly. They want to be the leader in all the future technologies that are going to dominate the economy. And so what’s at stake is the economic opportunity of our children and our grandchildren. Whether we can continue to be the technological leader of the world.”
Barr said, “The Chinese have embarked on a very aggressive program during this time of stealing and cheating in order to overtake us.” The attorney general added, “When they steal our secrets about future technology, they’re stealing the future of the American people.”
The Justice Department has increased its scrutiny of China’s activities recently, starting the China Initiative in 2018 and charging espionage cases, cracking down on hacking schemes, prosecuting efforts to steal trade secrets, and going after the Thousand Talents program, including Harvard professor Charles Lieber.
The attorney general pointed to World War II and quipped, “We’re not speaking German today because the American business … stood with the United States.” Barr said. “We need American business community’s understanding of the nature of the problem right now.”
“We are clearly cracking down on researchers and others that are sent over here to get involved in our key technological programs,” Barr said. “And by the way, this is not just weapon 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.”
Barr said the keys to combating China’s threat to the U.S. were “protecting American technological leadership” and “thwarting their espionage and influence activities.” He said pushing China to “play by the rules” on the international stage was important too.
“Chinese efforts run the gamut from more traditional espionage of recruiting people to work for them, explicitly, to cultivating relationships that then they are able to use, and the people frequently are not completely attune to the fact that they are being used as essentially stooges for the Chinese,” the attorney general warned.
As Chinese global telecom giant Huawei attempts to gain global dominance in fifth-generation wireless network, or 5G, technology, Barr said the U.S. and its allies should look into financially backing either Finnish Nokia or Swedish Ericsson, or both, to blunt Huawei’s dominance. “The West has to pick a horse or horses,” he said.
When asked whether Huawei technology could be used as a backdoor for Chinese spying, Barr said, “I would say there’s certainly the capacity to do that — and a very high risk of that.”
The U.S. charged Huawei in a global racketeering scheme earlier this year, and U.S. intelligence agencies believe Huawei and other Chinese companies are working hand-in-hand with the Chinese Communist Party.
Barr also said China may be attempting to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.
“They might think that we are sufficiently distracted by COVID that we won’t be able to respond, and I’m concerned they may think the current environment is one in which they can push the envelope somewhat,” he said.