Return to

Nov. 1, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

State official on China tech theft
The State Department is stepping up efforts to block China from acquiring American technology in a large-scale, high-technology military buildup.

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said the efforts are aimed at countering Beijing’s strategy of “military-civilian fusion” being directed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The fusion process moves technology acquired abroad ostensibly for civilian purposes to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Mr. Ford said in a speech to the U.S. Naval Academy last week.

Mr. Ford said his bureau at the State Department has joined with Los Alamos National Laboratory since July in a program aimed at “putting up barriers to the proliferation of sensitive technologies to the People’s Republic of China — technologies which Beijing has been using to build up its military capabilities in support of its ambitious ‘China Dream’ of ‘national rejuvenation’ to regain China’s position as a world leader in a range of fields, including military might.”

China’s drive for foreign technology is based on Mr. Xi’s “China Dream” ideology of making Beijing a global power along with a parallel “Strong Military Dream,” he said.

China is becoming a Communist Party-run state with a sociopolitical operating system that combines state capitalism with a Leninist party organization. The goal is to replace democratic capitalism around the world.

“Chinese strategic writings make clear that the objective of the [Chinese Communist Party] strategy is not merely to acquire power and influence for China on the world stage, but in fact to displace U.S. power and influence so as to reclaim the central geopolitical status and role of which China believes it was robbed by Western imperialism,” Mr. Ford said.

To achieve that goal, foreign technology acquisition has been a main feature of the military modernization since the 1980s.

In preparing to defeat the United States in a military conflict, “China engaged in a massive [science and technology] development effort, focused upon getting the high-technology weapons that it was assumed would shape the nature of warfare in the 21st century,” Mr. Ford said.

That’s where the fusing of military and civilian technology comes in for China’s industrial complexes.

China’s military is seeking high technology for the “informationization” of warfare centered on advanced communications and computing capabilities, what Mr. Ford called “an ability to win wars without putting any boots on the ground at all.” A key element will be the integration of artificial intelligence into military systems to win the wars of the future.

Since last year, the Chinese military began to prepare for war using military-based artificial intelligence weapons and war-fighting concepts. In doing so, the Chinese are seeking to match a similar U.S. military strategy of employing advanced war-fighting concepts called the “Third Offset” — also known as the most recent iteration of the revolution in military affairs, or RMA.

“Simply put, China aims to lead the next RMA and to reap the geopolitical benefits accordingly, by exploiting cutting-edge civilian technology,” Mr. Ford said. “This is the CCP’s blueprint for China’s global ‘return’ to military pre-eminence.”

The civilian-military fusion plan is not simply to boost Chinese economic competitiveness but to assist in achieving global military supremacy.

Other targets of Chinese technology acquisition include nuclear technology, aerospace and aviation know-how, semiconductors, cloud computing, robotics, and big data processing technology.

Semiconductors, cloud computing and big data are needed for the artificial intelligence weapons, while AI will be applied to the other areas.

China is also pursuing advanced capabilities to control the seas and defeat the U.S. Navy as it seeks access to resources around the world.

China also is considering building floating nuclear power plants in the South China Sea, where U.S. and Chinese naval forces have been confronting each other over disputed islands.

Mr. Ford said China’s state-run nuclear corporation is working to develop nuclear ships and submarines for the Chinese military. Any foreign cooperation with the company is tantamount to cooperation with the PLA navy and its nuclear propulsion programs, he said.

China’s military technology program might not succeed. “What is clear, however, is that China is today engaged in a state-led, industrial-policy-based, whole-of-nation competitive strategy that revolves in crucial ways around the acquisition of sensitive foreign technologies by any and every possible means,” Mr. Ford said.

The U.S. government recently halted nuclear cooperation with China on advanced modular reactors and other designs that could boost China’s military.

A forthcoming report by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission contains details on how Beijing is turning its western Xinjiang province into a repressive police state.

China has ordered the mass incarceration of some 1 million ethnic Uighurs as part of a crackdown that the commission says appears linked to the $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), designed to expand Chinese influence using infrastructure investments in the developing world.

Xinjiang “is the site of an extensive campaign of repression by the [Chinese Communist Party] government targeting the region’s majority Islamic Uighur population and other ethnic minorities, many of whom do not culturally or politically identify with China,” according to a late draft of the commission report due to be made public in the next two weeks.

Xinjiang is the a hub for three of China’s six proposed economic development corridors, under the initiative that will extend trade routes from China to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

China is seeking to pacify the restive region as part of its initiative. But the repression of the Uighurs has sparked a backlash from other countries in the region, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Kazakhstan.

“Growing backlash over China’s Uighur policy could make some states unwilling to cooperate with Beijing on BRI projects,” the report said.

The estimated 1 million Uighurs held in the Xinjiang camps represent 8 percent of the province’s total ethnic minority population. A total of 23.6 million people live in Xinjiang.

The State Department has said China has “continued to extract unpaid labor, conduct indoctrination sessions, and closely monitor and restrict the movements of Uighurs to counteract what it considered ‘religious extremism’ in Xinjiang.”

China is using advanced technology in the repression campaign, including compulsory mass collection of biometric data such as voice samples and DNA, and is using artificial intelligence and “big data” to identify, profile and track every resident in Xinjiang, the report said. Arrests of Uighurs in Xinjiang have been used by the Chinese to intimidate and blackmail relatives overseas in a bid to suppress dissent outside China.

The report said China doubled spending on the tools of repression in Xinjiang from 2016 to 2017 when domestic security budgets increased from $4.6 billion to $8.8 billion.

A state-run Russian news outlet reported this week that Moscow will deploy its first hypersonic maneuvering missiles in 2019.

The Tass news agency reported Monday that the first regiment of Avangard hypersonic missiles will become operational by the end of next year.

The Avangard, or Advance Guard, is a boost glide vehicle launched atop an SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile.

The missile is capable of traveling at speeds of up to Mach 20, or 15,345 miles per hour. It was among the high-technology weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to