WASHINGTON - The Chinese government is targeting hundreds of political rivals and dissidents who live in the US, including American citizens and green card holders, in a bid to force them to return to China, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday (July 7).
China is also currently working to compromise American healthcare organisations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential Covid-19 research, he added in a speech on the security threat posed by Beijing.
China firmly opposed Mr Wray's remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday (July 8).
Mr Zhao added that Mr Wray's statements ignored basic facts, were full of political lies and exposed a deep-rooted Cold War mentality and ideological bias.
Mr Wray said: "The greatest long-term threat to our nation's information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China. It's a threat to our economic security - and by extension, to our national security."
His speech, delivered at the conservative Hudson Institute think-tank in Washington, comes as the Trump administration is ratcheting up pressure against Beijing to correct what it calls a pattern of misbehaviour.
Mr Wray outlined the broad range of techniques he said the Chinese government was undertaking to surpass the US in economic and technological leadership, including economic espionage, hacking, threats to academia, and malign foreign influence.
China has long denied US charges of cyber espionage.
While the litany of complaints is familiar - Washington has aired them with increasing frequency in speeches and statements since US-China relations took a sharp downturn in 2018 - Mr Wray said his speech contained more details on the Chinese threat than what the FBI has ever presented in an open forum.
Almost half of the FBI's 5,000 active counterintelligence cases are related to China and it opens a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours, he said.
As for the campaign against Chinese people abroad viewed as threats, known as Operation Fox Hunt, it is not the international anti-corruption campaign Chinese President Xi Jinping claims it to be, said Mr Wray
The family of one target in the US was visited by a messenger of the Chinese government, who told the target to "return to China promptly, or commit suicide", Mr Wray said.
The Obama administration raised the alarm about Operation Fox Hunt in 2015 ahead of Mr Xi's visit to Washington, but Chinese state media slammed America for not cooperating with the anti-corruption drive.
On Tuesday, Mr Wray stressed that his speech was not aimed against Chinese people or Chinese Americans, but against China's government and the Chinese Communist Party.
"Confronting this threat effectively does not mean we shouldn't do business with the Chinese. It does not mean we shouldn't host Chinese visitors. It does not mean we shouldn't welcome Chinese students or coexist with China on the world stage. But it does mean that when China violates our criminal laws and international norms, we are not going to tolerate it, much less enable it," he said.
He also said that US Attorney-General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be addressing the national security threat posed by China in the coming weeks.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Mr Pompeo said the US was looking into banning TikTok and other Chinese social media mobile apps, saying that people who downloaded them were placing "their private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party".
President Donald Trump confirmed on Wednesday that his administration was mulling over the ban, and linked it to punishing China for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He said in a television interview: "It's a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they've done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful."