Jul 7, 2020 - World

FBI director says China aims to become "world's only superpower"

FBI Director is Christopher A. Wray speaks to the media during a news conference at FBI Headquarters, on June 14, 2018 in Washington, DC.

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks to the media during a news conference at FBI Headquarters on June 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray gave a speech today at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. in which he laid out "more detail on the Chinese threat than the FBI has ever presented in an open forum."

Why it matters: China's increasingly aggressive behavior under General Secretary Xi Jinping is ringing alarm bells in the U.S.

Details: Wray described the multi-pronged efforts they have seen from China to take advantage of Americans and of U.S. innovation and technology, including the Equifax hack, theft of sensitive military technology, pressure to self-censor, and economic coercion applied to state and local-level U.S. elected officials.

  • "If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data. ... Our data isn’t the only thing at stake here — so are our health, our livelihoods, and our security," he said.
  • "We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case approximately every ten hours."

Context: Wray's speech is the latest in a series by top U.S. officials about how the Chinese Communist Party threatens U.S. interests and prosperity.

  • White House national security advisor Robert O'Brien emphasized similar points in a speech in Arizona on June 24.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr are also slated to give China-focused remarks within the next few weeks.

Wray said Americans should keep three things in mind:

  1. China's leaders believe they are in a "generational fight" to make China the "world's only superpower by any means necessary."
  2. Beijing uses a diverse set of methods to achieve its goals, including economic espionage, intelligence gathering, pushing for censorship at universities, and "malign foreign influence," referring to covert and coercive attempts to make powerful people advocate for China's interests in the U.S.
  3. China is taking advantage of America's open system, while preserving its own closed system, such as by working through ostensibly private Chinese companies to achieve state goals.

Of note: Wray avoided a phrase he had used several times before in public remarks — that China poses a "whole-of-society" threat to the U.S.

  • This phrase came under heavy criticism from Asian-American groups and others who said it was dangerously over-expansive and could subject Chinese people themselves to needless suspicion.
  • In this speech, Wray instead said that China is taking a "whole-of-state" approach.
  • Yes, but: Wray did call for a "whole-of-society response" to China's efforts.

The bottom line: "All these seemingly inconsequential pressures add up to a policymaking environment in which Americans find themselves held over a barrel by the Chinese Communist Party," Wray said.

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