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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

October 1, 2006

Written by C.N.

Espionage in Silicon Valley

It is widely believed these days that much (though not all) of China’s products and technologies are based on designs or ideas that have been “inspired by” — many would even say stolen — from other companies and countries. In fact, this type of commercial and military copying is a common technique that developing countries use in order to close the modernization gap between them and developed countries. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, law enforcement is paying more attention to economic espionage in Silicon Valley:

The case highlights China’s role as the main adversary in a complex game of 21st-century espionage where many agents aren’t trained spies in trench coats but businessmen, students and researchers. Silicon Valley, counterintelligence experts say, is ground zero. In a global economy where intellectual property has become a valuable currency, state-directed espionage increasingly targets technology and commercial trade secrets to advance a nation’s military and economic strength. . . .

Other countries — including U.S. allies such as France and Israel — also steal American secrets, but China tops the list, experts say. . . . U.S. spy catchers have been accused of unfairly targeting ethnic Chinese. That charge arose in the case of Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-born American citizen suspected of giving nuclear secrets to China. He was released in 2000 after pleading guilty to a felony count of mishandling classified information.

Even in the aftermath of Lee, some Asian-Americans still complain of racial profiling. “They demonize China and all Chinese-Americans by casting this wide net,” said George Koo, Deloitte & Touche’s director of Chinese Services in San Jose, who has criticized the FBI’s methods. “It’s a situation where every Chinese is required to prove why they’re not a spy.” Szady counters that the government isn’t singling out Chinese-Americans — the Chinese government is.

First I would like to give credit to the San Jose Mercury News for presenting a balanced story that describes many of the allegations against the Chinese in terms of their economic and military espionage activities while also presenting the Chinese side of the story, along with the cultural context of these allegations as they relate to the Asian American population in general.

Too often, when magazines or newspapers talk about Chinese espionage, more often than not, it ends up being a one-sided hysterical indictment of virtually all Chinese (and by implication, virtually all Asian Americans) living in the U.S. — check out the August 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine as an example of this type of biased and incomplete reporting.

Ultimately, I have no doubt that there is a notable level of economic espionage going on around the U.S. by Chinese and whoever in the U.S. they are able to recruit to assist them in their efforts. On the one hand, it would be easy to criticize Chinese companies for resorting to such dishonest means of economic modernization (and perhaps the Chinese government for tacitly tolerating these kinds of activities).

On the other hand, as the article points out, many countries engage in this type of economic espionage and in the end, such activities are so widespread that it has almost become a standard price of doing business. In other words, economic espionage is nothing new or completely unexpected. American companies should do whatever they can to prevent such activities or minimize their damage, but American society in general shouldn’t be so naive and shocked to hear that some companies in a developing country like China resort to such tactics.

China is certainly not the first and certainly will not be the last to use economic espionage as a business tool.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Espionage in Silicon Valley" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/10/espionage-in-silicon-valley/> ().

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