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How China’s Stole Its Way To Becoming a Military Superpower

Chinese Military
J-20 Stealth Fighter

A historic court decision sheds light on how China has used espionage to gain a military and economic advantage over the US and the rest of the world.

US counterintelligence officials managed to lure Yanjun Xu, a senior Chinese intelligence officer, out of China in 2018 and then get him extradited to the US to stand trial for attempting to steal advanced aircraft-engine technology, which China’s military has struggled to develop.

This case is only the latest in a series of espionage operations by Beijing meant to steal industrial and military secrets from the US and its allies and partners and even from Russia — a theft that has allowed China’s military to rapidly build its arsenals of sophisticated weapons.

Common case, uncommon outcome

On November 5, a federal jury convicted Xu — deputy division director of the Sixth Bureau of the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security (MSS), the primary intelligence agency of the Chinese Communist Party — of “conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.”

The Chinese intelligence officer was coordinating an operation to get access to a General Electric Aviation composite aircraft engine fan, a piece of technology no other firm has been able to reproduce.

In 2017, David Zheng, a GE Aviation employee, was approached by a Chinese university professor to give a presentation as the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The approach was made through LinkedIn, which has become a go-to method for Chinese intelligence to identify foreign targets, including Americans.

Although GE Aviation has strict rules about such presentations, Zheng ignored them and went to China without telling his employer.

During his presentation, Zheng had technical difficulties with his laptop, which contained five GE Aviation training documents. The hosts offered assistance, and a Chinese student inserted a thumb drive into Zheng’s computer — an apparent effort to insert malware or copy the hard drive — and “fixed” the problem.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.