Amid news of Chinese spy balloons and our state government banning TikTok on state devices, people are realizing that the sleeping tiger across the Pacific is wide awake. But Utah has a bigger, less visible China problem — and it’s time for Congress to address it.
David Fitzgibbons, a special agent with the FBI, said in 2021 that the bureau believes the greatest long-term threat to the people of Utah is the Chinese Communist Party, and for good reason. It is stealing Utah businesses’ intellectual property and, according to Fitzgibbons, has already collected data on almost all the state’s adults.
China wants to artificially take business away from our state by stealing Utah companies’ trade secrets, and it also seeks our data to enhance its cyberwarfare operations. Unfortunately, the country is succeeding in many ways. According to the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence 2021 Annual Threat Assessment, “China presents a prolific and effective cyberespionage threat” and can “launch cyberattacks that, at a minimum, can cause localized, temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure within the United States.”
While the FBI is already investigating China’s counterintelligence targeting of Utah, it’s time for Congress to begin addressing this threat, too.
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart — a member of the Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence subcommittee and Congress’ China Task Force — has long been ahead of the curve on this issue. According to The Wall Street Journal, last year, the retired Air Force pilot sought “confidential briefings on Capitol Hill … to determine whether the Chinese government has any direct or indirect links to SpaceX.” Stewart also sought to determine “whether any companies with Chinese ties have invested in SpaceX, which isn’t publicly traded.”
Without question, Elon Musk isn’t trying to harm America’s national security; however, his proximity to the Chinese Communist Party may very well be affecting it.
Although he is a champion for conservatives in many ways, Musk has taken over $1 billion in state loans from Chinese banks and has received accusations from lawmakers of looking the other way at the country’s genocide as he continues to operate a factory in the Xinjiang region, where most of its persecutions are occurring. But Musk isn’t alone. While he may be today’s highest profile example, his China ties speak to a larger, broader problem of American businesses that continue working — directly or indirectly, knowingly or unwittingly — with the Chinese Communist Party, and their dangerous entanglements can adversely affect us all.
Some merely utilize suppliers with purported Chinese Communist Party connections; others have, according to members of Congress, hid and lied about contracts they have had with the Chinese government.
These businesses don’t seem to understand that doing business with China is not merely transactional. China is always looking to slip spies into U.S. business operations, backdoors into their technology and eyeballs on their users’ sensitive information. And as FBI Agent Fitzgibbons has made clear, this affects Utahns tremendously — our privacy, ability to engage in commerce, and even our safety. It needs to end.
The good news is that with Republicans recently taking control of the House of Representatives, Rep. Stewart and his allied colleagues will now have far more control over the trajectory of Congress’ agenda this year. That means they can call for more hearings to further quantify the extent of this problem and introduce and pass more bills that address the public and private sectors’ concerning ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
Safety is of primary importance to all Utah voters, and the FBI has spoken — this issue affects their well-being more than any other. Hopefully, its legislators in Congress have taken note and are ready to act. There has never been a more opportune time to do so than now.
But yes, also make sure your kids don’t have TikTok on their phones.
Jared Whitley is a longtime Utah and D.C. politico, having worked in the Senate, Bush White House and defense industry. He has an MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai.