Justice Department Reveals New Chinese Economic Espionage Charges

Chinese economic espionage

The relations between the United States and China have been appearing to be frail, lately. The running tensions between the two countries are likely to exacerbate following the Thursday announcement by the Justice Department regarding the Chinese economic espionage. It has proclaimed new charges against certain Chinese entities and nationals for engaging in economic espionage on behalf of their government.

The entities and individuals charged —a Chinese state-owned company, a Taiwanese company and three Taiwanese nationals — are accused of stealing trade secrets from Micron Technology, an US-based semiconductor company.

Micron has a large office in the North District of California, where the economic espionage charges have been filed. However, it is headquartered in Boise, Idaho.

The charges were announced at a press conference by attorney General Jeff Sessions, who described the Chinese economic espionage as an acute threat to the US national security and economic competitiveness.

In remarks at the Justice Department, Sessions said, “The problem has been growing rapidly, and along with China’s other unfair trade practices, it poses a real and illegal threat to our nation’s economic prosperity and competitiveness.” He also suggested that the activity had been “overshadowed in the press by threats from Russia or radical Islamic terrorism.”

The Thursday indictment unveiled alleges that the defendants conspired to pilfer trade secrets from Micron and pass it to the Chinese government. It stated that they stole information particularly about dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), a memory technology used to store data in electronic devices that is manufactured by Micron.

Filed on September 27 but unsealed on Thursday, the indictment charges– Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company, a Chinese state-owned semiconductor firm, Taiwanese company United Microelectronics Corporation, and Taiwanese nationals Chen Zhengkun, He Jianting, and Wang Yungming with conspiracy to commit economic espionage and other federal crimes.

The charges are the second tranche related to Chinese economic espionage that US officials have unveiled just this week. Days before the announcement, the Justice Department had charged two Chinese intelligence officers, ZhaRong and Chai Meng, in a conspiracy to hack into US firms and steal sensitive information on jet engines used in American and European commercial airliners.

Sessions on Thursday also revealed a new initiative to investigate trade theft cases by China. John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, will lead the initiative, with assistance from senior Justice Department and FBI officials as well as five US attorneys.

Sessions described the activity as a “brazen scheme” and signaled the Justice Department’s efforts were meant to put off further trade theft by China.

“Chinese economic espionage against the United States has been increasing and it has been increasing rapidly. We are here to say enough is enough,” Sessions said. “It is time for China to join the community of lawful nations,” the attorney general said.

He added, “We will continue to charge wrongdoers based on carefully conducted investigations.”

The initiative is another breaking point in the efforts of Trump administration to curb what it views as malign activity by Beijing. In recent months, the administration officials have ratcheted their rhetoric on China, accusing it of engaging in unacceptable behavior in the military, economic and cyber realms.

Earlier this week, the Commerce Department had also restricted exports to Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company, citing a “significant risk” to US national security interests.

In 2015, the then-US President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an agreement to stop conducting cyber-enabled intellectual property theft. Following the agreement, experts noticed a drop off in Chinese economic espionage. But in the recent months, it has picked up.

Since September, this is the third time that the Justice Department had brought charges against Chinese intelligence officers for stealing intellectual property of the US.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other have also accused Beijing of meddling in the November midterm elections. However, critics believe that it is an effort to distract from Russian interference and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Although Chinese economic espionage has been picking up, seems like Trump is using it for his own benefit. There is still a lot to see on how the US-Chinese relations will unfold.

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