Sen. Cruz Raises Concerns of Chinese Espionage Within American Universities at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
China is, in my judgment, the greatest long-term geopolitical rival to the United States
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today participated in a hearing focused on “A New Approach for an Era of U.S.-China Competition.”
Sen. Cruz raised concerns over Huawei’s attempted commercial participation in the 5G buildout within partner countries belonging to the Five Eyes intelligence network.
“Many of us are increasingly concerned that China is gaining access to American secrets by using nontraditional all-of-government – or even all-of-nation – approaches to espionage against us and our allies. Huawei is a Communist Party-controlled surveillance agency veiled as a telecommunications company. It has maneuvered itself into a dominant position providing infrastructure across the globe, including partners within the Five Eyes intelligence network of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.”
Sen. Cruz has been a leader in a series of efforts against Chinese influence and espionage operations targeting American higher education, and recently secured an amendment in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that prohibited the Department of Defense from funding Confucius Institutes. Last Congress, he introduced the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act of 2018, legislation that would counter Chinese espionage efforts in American universities.
Watch Sen. Cruz’s full line of questioning here. Full transcript is below:
Sen. Cruz: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to the both of you. Thank you for your testimony today.
“China is, in my judgment, the greatest long-term geopolitical rival to the United States. Presidents in both parties have believed for decades that America could turn China from a foe into a friend through trade and diplomacy, or that allowing China into rules-based institutions would turn China into a rules-based country. Instead, sadly, the opposite has happened.
“America can’t sever commerce with our largest trading partner – nor should we – but we must recognize China for the threat it poses to our national security. There are three urgent matters before America and our allies: number one, to insulate our vulnerability to Chinese espionage and interference; number two, to deconflict our commerce from enabling the Party’s human rights abuses; and number three, to compete to secure our interests. Let me focus principally on the first.
“Many of us are increasingly concerned that China is gaining access to American secrets by using nontraditional all-of-government – or even all-of-nation – approaches to espionage against us and our allies. Huawei is a Communist Party-controlled surveillance agency veiled as a telecommunications company. It has maneuvered itself into a dominant position providing infrastructure across the globe, including partners within the Five Eyes intelligence network of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Can you assess the risks presented by Huawei’s commercial participation in the 5G buildout within those countries?”
Dr. Oriana Mastro: “Sir, at the very least – and I don’t have the ability to independently assess the degree to which Huawei is controlled by the Party. and whether or not there’s backdoors that could lead to vulnerabilities in civilian or critical infrastructure, as well as impacts on military infrastructure – but what I can say is, at the very least, a Chinese company like Huawei has to do what the Communist Party asks them to do. Even if Huawei is a hundred percent private, which, which, I’m not an economist, but the essence of what I study is, even private corporations have very close government ties. Even if they’re a hundred percent private, even if their leadership has, you know, no love lost for the Communist Party, in the end, if you’re going to operate in China, and it’s critical enough for Chinese national security and core interests that the Party asks you to do something, you have to do it. And so, given those connections, I think, between companies in China to the government, we have to be very careful on the national security front.
“However, I think we have to be careful also not to – this is not for Huawei, but other examples – use national security issues for protectionist goals. Because that really undermines the areas in which national security is really threatened. And I think we need to be – think differently about counterintelligence. We’re in a different age of an intel threat that is very different than before, right? The insider threat is no longer someone that just wants money or something like that. Now we have China who is very proactive, getting information through cyber means but also just mass. They’re not very good at it, but they have so – they have so much effort at it. So there really does have to be a broader effort in the counterintelligence sphere, to your first point.”
Commissioner James M. Talent: “We should not assume, but we should plan on the assumption, that for the purposes of the national security goals of the Chinese state, private companies, companies that are technically private, are not private. And as a matter of fact, they’ve been pretty explicit recently in increasing the presence and visibility of the Chinese Party – Communist Party committees, which are attached to every company, even private companies. And so, I agree with Dr. Mastro, and we’ve said this in the Commission for a number of years. There are obviously differences between state-owned enterprises and private companies for certain economic purposes, but you have to assume they’re all going to do the will of the state.
“And you mentioned 5G. This is a competition that the United States must win. And the Chinese understand this, and they are pushing very, very hard. They’re going to control the standards if we’re not careful, and they’re going to control the devices. And if they do that, then espionage is going to be very easy for them.”
Sen. Cruz: “Right. Last year I authored and passed an amendment in the National Defense Authorization act to prohibit DOD from funding Confucius Institutes, which are one of the tools the Chinese use to penetrate American higher education. I’ve also introduced the “Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act” to require the FBI to designate foreign actors conducting espionage in our colleges and universities. In your judgment, what further steps can Congress take to insulate our universities and research institutions from Chinese espionage?”
Dr. Oriana Mastro: “Sir, I don’t mean to pivot, but can I add one more concern from the point of higher education?”
Sen. Cruz: “Absolutely.”
Dr. Oriana Mastro: “Which is to elevate the cases of scholars who are punished or retaliated against based on their research or their writing, or even U.S.-based companies that will censor some scholars’ work overseas. I myself have just cancelled a trip in two weeks to China because I’m concerned about my own safety. And that’s the first time. I love going to China. I’ve spent a lot of time there. But I’m concerned that that would not be a priority back at home if, in retaliation for what’s happening in the Huawei situation, if China started harassing or detaining U.S. citizens. And so, I think that the intel aspect is very important, but we also have to recognize that individuals are being retaliated against that work in these institutions, whether it’s deny them access or what have you. And so that also, I think, has to be a part of the national discussion.”
Commissioner James M. Talent: “And reciprocity would be the theme there. Like, for example, in the commission we’ve looked for years. They’ll deny – this is a little outside higher ed – they’ll deny or hold up visas to foreign reporters wanting to come into China. And of course, we’re letting Chinese reporters into the United States all the time. When Senator Dorgan was on the commission, he and I used to talk about, ‘Why do we do – why don’t we respond in kind in those kinds of situations?’ Just – I mean, why shouldn’t they keep doing it, from their point of view? We don’t react.”
Sen. Cruz: “Thank you.”