FBI Director Wray discusses China, Taiwan, Russia and US security

LONDON — In a rare joint appearance with his British counterpart, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Wednesday warned that the Chinese government’s threat to Western companies was “getting worse” and hinted that China may be taking steps to clamp down economic impact if it were to invade Taiwan.

Speaking at the offices of MI5, Britain’s intelligence agency, Wray focused on the threat posed to Western companies and governments by what he described as China’s relentless, multifaceted efforts to unfairly compete in the global marketplace. He also said the Russian invasion of Ukraine could teach important lessons for geopolitics in Asia.

“As you all know, there has been a lot of discussion about the possibility that China might try to take over Taiwan by force,” Wray said. “If that happened, it would be one of the most horrifying business disruptions the world has ever seen.”

He was addressing a gathering of British business leaders in what officials say was the first such event attended by the head of the FBI and the head of MI5.

Wray said he is confident that China “is learning all sorts of lessons from what is happening with Russia and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” And so should you. We’ve seen China scramble for ways to protect its economy against potential sanctions, trying to protect itself from harm if it did anything to draw the wrath of international behavior. In our world, we call this type of behavior a cue.”

Wray did not explain how the FBI concluded a link between Chinese efforts to mitigate the impact of sanctions and possible plans to invade Taiwan. In the West, some cybersecurity experts have been calling for sanctions against China for more than a year over state-sponsored hacking campaigns targeting hundreds of companies.

The US and its allies accuse China of hacking Microsoft and other companies

The FBI director noted that as Russia was hit with tough sanctions after invading Ukraine, “many Western companies still had their fingers in the door when it slammed.”

A similar type of sanctions against China, he warned, could hurt the global economy “on a much larger scale”.

Wray’s comments are the latest in a series of public warnings he has issued about the threat China poses to US and European economic interests. But Wednesday’s speech appeared designed to mobilize British business to fight Chinese hacking, trade secret theft and clandestine lobbying ranging from human rights abuses to the possibility, however remote, of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan enough.

The island has lived under military threat from Beijing since 1949, when Chinese communist forces defeated the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War, prompting the Nationalists to flee to Taiwan and form a rival government. An uneasy peace reigned for decades. But the invasion of Ukraine has renewed concerns that China may be trying to follow Russia’s lead.

Taiwanese officials warn that war is not imminent, citing their government’s close ties with the United States and the island’s strategic importance. In May, President Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan militarily in the event of a Chinese attack, before the White House withdrew its statement and maintained a long-standing policy of ambiguity about the extent of U.S. aid.

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Wray said he didn’t know whether the invasion of Ukraine would increase the likelihood of China invading Taiwan. But he said China should take Russia’s experience in Ukraine — with the invasion that prompted massive sanctions and a huge flood of aid to Kyiv from Western nations — as a warning.

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“I have no reason to believe that their interest in Taiwan has waned in any way,” Wray said. “But we certainly hope they learn valuable lessons about what happens when you overdo your hand like the Russians are clearly doing in Ukraine – and bring like-minded countries together in quite a historic way.”

Also on Wednesday, the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center issued a bulletin warning state and local officials to beware of possible covert attempts by China to influence them.

The Bulletin said: “As tensions between Beijing and Washington have increased… [the Chinese government] has increasingly sought to exploit these sub-national China-US ties to influence US policy and advance [Chinese government] Interests. US state, local, tribal and territorial leaders risk being manipulated into providing covert support [Chinese government] agendas.”

In London, MI5 Director-General Ken McCallum said his agency was conducting seven times as many China-related investigations as in 2018 and that China was “high” on the agenda of intelligence-sharing relations between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, often referred to as the “Five Eyes”.

McCallum said his colleagues “urgently need” new national security laws to better combat hacking and covert influence from China.

“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from an increasingly authoritarian Chinese Communist Party exerting covert pressure around the world,” McCallum said. “This may feel abstract, but it’s real and it’s urgent. We need to talk about it. We have to take action.”

As the war in Ukraine falters, US assessments are put to the test

The joint FBI-MI5 speech comes amid efforts by the Biden administration to rally allies, notably Europe and Japan, to curb the US administration’s pronouncements are China’s worst abuses in hacking, espionage and influence operations.

A year ago, the United States, the European Union and NATO officially accused the Chinese government of a sophisticated attack on Microsoft’s widely used email server – marking the first time that NATO, a 30-nation coalition, launched a took such a step.

This hack compromised more than 100,000 servers worldwide, and Microsoft claims it was carried out by a Beijing-backed hacking group that exploited several previously unknown bugs in the software.

McCallum said his agency is changing to deal with the growing threat, becoming “an organization as focused on countering government threats as it is on our continued important role in fighting terrorism.”

“There is hostile activity taking place on British soil right now,” he said. “We don’t need to build walls to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We need to raise awareness and make conscious choices to build resilience.”

Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/07/06/china-taiwan-fbi-wray-sanctions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_politics FBI Director Wray discusses China, Taiwan, Russia and US security

James Brien

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