On Monday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, surrounded by a phalanx of top Justice Department (DOJ) lawyers, announced the indictment of four Chinese military officers for their role in the massive 2017 breach of sensitive personal data stored in the computers of the credit reporting company, Equifax. If you have a mortgage, or have taken out any kind of bank loan, you are probably one of the 150 million Americans whose data was compromised.
The Equifax data heist was not an isolated incident of Chinese government sanctioned spying – if you can even call the pilfering of 150 million Americans’ personal information an isolated incident. It is part of an ongoing strategy on the part of Chinese government to sop up as much information, trade secrets, and intellectual property as they can on the cheap. And, as Jennifer G. Hickey wrote in a blog on this site last month, the Chinese military is no stranger to these efforts.
Chinese government efforts to plunder personal, intellectual, and strategic information is, of course, not limited to active members of the communist regime’s military. There are an estimated 360,000 Chinese nationals studying at American universities, or working for vital American companies under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program which tacks on a few extra years of on-the-job training for foreign nationals with student visas.
In most cases, the cost of a rather pricey education at an Americana university is picked up by the Chinese government. You can be sure that they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their communist hearts. They expect something in return, and they’re not all that particular about whether the know-how brought back by Chinese nationals studying in the U.S. is honestly earned, or stolen.
Which brings us to the $64,000 question: Why isn’t China on the newly expanded list of countries that are subject to severe restrictions on visa issuance? In fact, why wasn’t China at the top of that list? Sure, China isn’t Eritrea, and clamping down of visa issuance to the world’s most populous nation and the world’s second largest economy carries enormous geo-political and economic implications. But at the same time, can we afford the risks associated with allowing citizens of a country that has been waging economic war against us for decades nearly unfettered access to the places where vital research and innovation occurs?
We weren’t giving student visas to German and Japanese nationals during World War II, although sending spies posing as students to the U.S. was an important part of Stalin’s catch-up program. We don’t need to make the same mistakes twice.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” wrote Sun Tzu, in The Art of War. The 21st century leaders of China are still using that 2,500-year-old playbook with great effectiveness. Maybe it’s time someone in Washington studied it as well.