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Congress should investigate Chinese IP theft

The House of Representatives recently formed a bipartisan committee to “investigate and submit policy recommendations” on ways to counter the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

The move is welcome — and long overdue. For decades, China has sought to weaken America, and enrich itself, by stealing cutting-edge technologies critical to our national security and economic well-being. Lawmakers would be wise to make this intellectual property theft the foundation of their investigation.

Consider China’s ongoing campaign to appropriate U.S. companies’ trade secrets — the proprietary know-how that enables American firms to make everything from lifesaving medicines to next-generation alloys used in spacecraft. U.S. officials have estimated that China steals up to $600 billion of American intellectual property annually. This theft endangers the jobs of more than 45 million Americans who work in IP-intensive industries, which account for more than $6.5 trillion in economic output.

China sometimes tries to obtain this intellectual property through bullying — essentially, requiring American companies that want to sell their goods to the Middle Kingdom’s 1.4 billion consumers to partner with Chinese firms. For example, until last year, China mandated that foreign car companies partner with local auto manufacturers. China has required wind turbine and solar panel producers to make a certain percentage of their products in the country. Those local “partners” frequently use this access to sensitive information to learn American secrets and, eventually, reproduce the technology without any need for a U.S. partner.

Other times, Chinese nationals — often working formally or informally for the Communist Party — have outright pilfered trade secrets.

In November 2022, a U.S. court sentenced Chinese national Xu Yanjun to 20 years in prison for planning to steal trade secrets from multiple U.S. aeronautical companies. In 2018, Chinese company Sinovel Wind Group was convicted in a Wisconsin federal court for stealing technology from its American partner. A recent report by Boston company Cybereason revealed a Chinese campaign called “Operation CuckooBees” that stole the blueprints for hundreds of gigabytes of advanced technology.

Unfortunately, this espionage campaign has borne fruit. According to experts at Harvard’s Kennedy School, China is on track to overtake the United States’ technological dominance within the next decade.

And the Communist Party shows no signs of abandoning its goals. Just the opposite. President Xi has been elevating “technocrats” specializing in science and technology to positions of authority. In fact, nearly 40% of China’s national policy-making body is now composed of technocrats determined to accelerate their nation’s economic progress — by hook or by crook.

For decades, China has sought to surpass the United States in high-tech fields by stealing Americans’ best ideas. It’s up to Congress to put a stop to this theft.

Frank Cullen

Frank Cullen

Frank Cullen is executive director of the Council for Innovation Promotion. This originally ran in The Hill.

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