Ellen Nakashima, a national security reporter with The Washington Post said that US counterintelligence officials have begun a concerted push to caution companies about risks of working with China entities.
Officials stressed they are not advocating that industry and researchers “decouple,” or cut all ties with these entities, but they say they want people to understand that the China government has a sweeping national plan to dominate in these fields.
Beijing’s strategy includes acquiring data and know-how, not just through hacking and other illicit acts but also through legal means such as acquisitions, investments and partnerships that businesses and researchers may not realize pose risks, top officials at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said, said Nakashima.
“We think there`s a lot at stake with a lot of these technologies,” said Mike Orlando, acting Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“If we lose supremacy in these areas … we could be eclipsed as an international superpower.” He said “hundreds of billions of dollars` worth” of American technology is being targeted by the Chinese government.
China President Xi Jinping has repeatedly urged scientists to make advances that can help ensure the country`s self-reliance.
In a speech a year ago, he called for efforts “to foster strategic emerging industries such as quantum communications to gain an upper hand in international competition and build new advantages for development,” reported The Washington Post.
Other areas that China is particularly active in are semiconductors and autonomous systems, officials said at a briefing for reporters on 21 October.
China, for instance, is making a concerted effort to buy Western semiconductor firms, Orlando said. Chinese are also targeting genomic technology that can be used to design disease therapies and identify genetic vulnerabilities in a population, said Edward You, the national counterintelligence officer for emerging and disruptive technologies, said Nakashima.
He pointed to China`s largest genomics company, BGI, which purchased the US firm Complete Genomics in 2013.
Over the years, BGI has made inroads in American hospitals and health-care institutions, offering inexpensive large-scale DNA sequencing, he said.
Providing such services is not illegal, but at the same time, You said, BGI is gaining access to massive amounts of Americans` genetic data.
“Unbeknownst to patients, your data might be transferred to the Chinese government,” You said. In July 2020, the United States imposed sanctions on two BGI subsidiaries for using genetic analysis to further the Chinese governments repression of Uyghur Muslims in Chinas Xinjiang province.
BGI denied the claims, reported The Washington Post. You said the risk is not just to privacy but to national security.
If China can pair such genetic data sets, including the data authorities are already gathering domestically, with artificial intelligence and quantum computing, he said, it may be able to advance to the point where it is first to market with cures for diseases.
Further, Orlando urged companies and universities to come up with best practices, review how data is stored and transferred, determine who has access to what and ensure vetting of contractors and subcontractors, reported The Washington Post.
“If we can get the research community and private sector to be aware of what they`re doing and engineer security measures, we have a much better chance” of mitigating the risks, You said.