WASHINGTON • Accusing American firms of engaging in “corporate appeasement” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), US Attorney-General William Barr has called on the private sector to get tougher in resisting what he portrayed as corrupting efforts by China to cheat and bully its way into taking over the global economy.
“The CCP has launched an orchestrated campaign across all of its many tentacles in Chinese government and society to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them,” Mr Barr said in a speech at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday.
“To secure a world of freedom and prosperity for our children and our grandchildren, the free world will need its own version of a whole-of-society approach in which the public and private sectors maintain their separation but work together collaboratively in order to resist domination and to win the contest for the commanding heights of the global economy,” he said.
Mr Barr’s was the third of four speeches on China by senior Trump administration officials, and it came as the White House was weighing imposing a sweeping ban on travel to the United States by members of the CCP as part of a broader confrontation with Beijing.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to deliver a speech on China next week.
Mr Barr denounced China as an authoritarian state that found willing “pawns” as it sought to infiltrate, censor and co-opt American private sector institutions and steal technological know-how.
He focused in particular on entertainment and high-tech businesses, industries that Republicans sometimes view as too liberal politically.
For example, the Attorney-General criticised actors and directors for lecturing the US at the Academy Awards each year about “how this country falls short of Hollywood’s values” even as their industry censored movies to avoid losing access to the Chinese market.
Mr Barr cited Paramount Pictures altering a scene in the 2013 zombie apocalypse movie World War Z, in which the characters had speculated that a virus outbreak had started in China, as well as the decision by the screenwriter of the 2016 movie Dr Strange, by Disney’s Marvel Studios, to change the ethnicity of a major character who is Tibetan in the comic books to Celtic to avoid angering the Chinese government.
“Many more scripts never see the light of day because writers and producers know not to test the limits,” Mr Barr said. “Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word because Hollywood is doing their work for them. This is a massive propaganda coup (for China).”
He also lambasted Silicon Valley companies, saying that Cisco had helped China build its massive system for censoring and surveilling the Internet, and that “Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple have shown themselves to be all too willing to collaborate” with China.
He focused on Apple, slamming it for removing Chinese users’ ability to access pro-democracy songs and apps that provide news and can evade Internet censorship; for agreeing to put iCloud data of Chinese users on servers in China; and for securing iPhones in a way that inhibits the ability of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to scrutinise data on devices even with warrants – while, he insinuated, treating the Chinese government differently.
Many more scripts never see the light of day because writers and producers know not to test the limits. Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word because Hollywood is doing their work for them. This is a massive propaganda coup (for China).
ATTORNEY-GENERAL WILLIAM BARR, taking a swipe at Hollywood.
“Do you think when Apple sells phones in China, that Apple phones in China are impervious to penetration by Chinese authorities? They wouldn’t be sold if they were impervious to Chinese authorities,” he said. “That’s the double standard that has been emerging among American tech companies.”
An Apple spokesman pointed to previous statements that the company had made about its need to comply with Chinese laws, saying it would provide iCloud data in its possession about individual users in response to legal requests but “never bulk data”.
The company has also said there is no way to weaken its security features for the US government without endangering all its users.
“We sell the same iPhone everywhere,” an Apple statement said.
“We don’t store customers’ passcodes, and we don’t have the capacity to unlock passcode-protected devices. In data centres, we deploy strong hardware and software security protections to keep information safe and to ensure there are no back doors into our systems. All of these practices apply equally to our operations in every country in the world.”
Mr Barr praised the recent decision by several tech giants to suspend providing user data to Chinese law enforcement in response to its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong.
Noting that China has threatened criminal sanctions in response, he urged the companies to hold firm.
But he also asserted that American corporate leaders with economic interests in China were being pressured to carry out covert influence campaigns, suggesting that they could face legal liability if they lobbied for policies that the Chinese government had directed them to support without disclosing the underlying relationship.
“You should be alert to how you might be used – and how your efforts on behalf of a foreign company or government could implicate the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” Mr Barr warned.
The law requires Americans who lobby the government on behalf of foreign powers to register with the Justice Department.
On June 24, Mr Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, gave a speech saying assumptions that China would liberalise as it developed economically had proved wrong. He equated Chinese President Xi Jinping to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Last week, FBI director Christopher Wray portrayed China as “the greatest long-term threat” to American economic and national security.
He slammed China’s use of economic espionage and cyber attacks to steal American-developed technology.
“We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours,” he said. “Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently under way across the country, almost half are related to China.”