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By Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor 

Countering Communist China

 

August 3, 2022

This month, I issued a proclamation declaring July 2022 as “Victims of Communism Month” in Nebraska.  This is the second year in a row that I’ve issued this proclamation as a way to highlight the atrocities committed by Communist governments.  There’s no clearer example than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whose regime is a human rights abuser to its own people.  In recent years, the CCP has ruthlessly crushed dissent in Hong Kong.  It has committed genocide against ethnic Uighurs.  And it is one of the world’s worst abusers of religious freedom.

This proclamation also serves to remind Nebraskans of the CCP’s corrosive reach abroad.  As the leader of the free world, America is one of the CCP’s biggest targets, and we know they are conducting large-scale operations to steal trade secrets, spy on Americans, and disrupt our way of life.

Intellectual property theft is draining away American wealth, and the CCP is by far the biggest culprit.  The U.S. government estimates that intellectual property theft costs Americans between $225 billion and $600 billion annually.  That’s 2 to 5 times the amount of all goods and services produced in Nebraska each year.

I’m especially alarmed by the CCP’s theft of agricultural trade secrets.  To feed its population, China must import more agricultural goods than any other country.  President Xi Jinping has made it a priority to ramp up agricultural production in China.  But to achieve this goal, the CCP has targeted the theft of U.S. ag technologies — especially genetically modified (GM) seeds. 

In April 2022, a Chinese national was sentenced to prison for conspiracy to commit economic espionage.  He worked at Monsanto in Missouri for nearly a decade before he was caught trying to board a one-way flight to China.  Federal authorities discovered a miniature SD card in his possession containing technology stolen from Monsanto.

In 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen rice seeds in the luggage of two Chinese nationals at the Honolulu airport.  At the time, both individuals were working as crop researchers in China.  They had taken the seeds while visiting a research center in Arkansas and a rice production facility in Kansas.

And in 2016, a Chinese scientist was convicted of stealing GM seeds from cornfields in Iowa.  He had collected thousands of seed samples from Monsanto and Pioneer test fields, shipping them to China where they could be used to develop similar hybrids. 

The CCP is trying to cheat to better compete with U.S. farmers.  But it may have more sinister designs.  The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has expressed concern about the CCP using American ag secrets to damage the U.S. food supply.  In May 2022, the Commission warned that, “Similar to hacking a computer code, Beijing could easily hack the code or DNA of U.S. GM seeds and conduct biowarfare by creating some type of blight that could destroy U.S. crops.”

In addition to sending covert agents to infiltrate U.S. companies, the CCP engages in organized cybercrime.  FBI Director Christopher Wray has reported that the CCP’s state-sponsored hacking operations are bigger than those of all other nations combined. 

Using sophisticated malware, a Chinese state hacking group known as APT 41 was able to hack into the systems of 30 multinational manufacturers and tech companies.  Starting in 2019, the group stole trillions of dollars’ worth of blueprints, formulas, and other trade secrets.  This included fighter jet and missile designs, information on pharmaceutical drugs, and solar panel technologies. 

China thinks in terms of decades and centuries.  Their communist government is playing the long game, gradually gaining leverage in the hopes of achieving strategic superiority.  And social media has given them another foothold. The CCP is actively mining data from China-based tech companies like TikTok.  The CCP’s national intelligence law requires TikTok to turn over any data it collects to the Chinese government — including data on the roughly 100 million Americans who use TikTok each month.

With data from TikTok, the CCP can access users’ fingerprints and facial images.  In turn, this biometric data can be sold on China’s black market to criminals engaged in identity theft. The CCP can make use of this information to bypass security protocols to access classified files.  And they can study the browsing habits of TikTok users to more effectively spread propaganda.  It’s why Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr has called TikTok an “unacceptable national security risk” and urged Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores.

To maintain the security of data owned by the State of Nebraska, and to safeguard against the intrusive cyber activities of China’s communist government, we blocked TikTok from being loaded onto State devices in August 2020.  I strongly advise companies across Nebraska to do the same.  If you’re using TikTok, the Chinese Communist Party can access your personal data.

As Governor, I’ll continue to watch for ways we can better protect Nebraska’s innovators, producers, and leaders to guard against China’s aggression.  You can view the full text of the Victims of Communism Month proclamation here.  If you’d like to learn more about the State of Nebraska’s work to counter China’s communist government, please email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.

 

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