LONDON—The heads of the FBI and Britain’s domestic security service issued sharply worded warnings to business leaders about the threats posed by Chinese espionage, especially spying aimed at stealing Western technology companies’ intellectual property.
In a rare joint appearance on Wednesday at the headquarters of MI5,
director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, urged executives not to underestimate the scale and sophistication of Beijing’s campaign.
“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology—whatever it is that makes your industry tick—and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” Mr. Wray told the audience of business people. “They’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it.”
China uses state-sponsored hacking on a large scale along with a global network of intelligence operatives in its quest to gain access to technology it considers important, Messrs. Wray and McCallum said.
“We want to send the clearest signal we can on a massive shared challenge—China,” Mr. Wray said. Tackling the threat is essential “if we are to protect our economies, our institutions and our democratic values.”
Separately, U.S. counterintelligence officials issued a notice Wednesday warning state and local government leaders and business executives about what they see as China’s increasing efforts to influence policy-making through overt and covert means.
The notice, from the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, cited tactics ranging from lobbying to using front groups and threatening to withhold trade and investment opportunities.
Mr. Wray said the FBI is opening a new counterintelligence investigation into China roughly every 12 hours. Mr. McCallum said MI5 was running seven times as many investigations into suspicious Chinese activity now as it was in 2018.
China is engaged in “a coordinated campaign on a grand scale” that represents “a strategic contest across decades,” Mr. McCallum said. “We need to act.”
The two men said their focus is the conduct of China’s government and the Chinese Communist Party and not ethnic Chinese people more broadly. Mr. Wray said Chinese immigrants in the U.S. “are themselves frequently victims of the Chinese government’s lawless aggression.”
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, criticized what he characterized as “U.S. politicians who have been tarnishing China’s image and painting China as a threat with false accusations.”
Mr. Liu reiterated Beijing’s position that it is a defender of cybersecurity and a victim of cyberattacks, and that its government never condones such activity. He also accused the U.S. of launching mass online surveillance and urged the U.S. to “be a truly responsible actor in cyberspace.”
In his remarks, Mr. Wray ticked off a litany of ways he said China seeks to get its hands on Western technology and to use Western companies to otherwise advance its interests. He also pointed to Chinese laws and regulations that he said made foreign companies operating in China vulnerable.
The FBI director said he didn’t want to discourage companies from doing business with China altogether. But he voiced serious skepticism about commercial interactions with Chinese partners and said executives need to evaluate the risk of such dealings correctly.
“Maintaining a technological edge may do more to increase a company’s value than would partnering with a Chinese company to sell into that huge Chinese market, only to find the Chinese government and your partner stealing and copying your innovation,” he said.
—James T. Areddy in New York contributed to this article.
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