China continues building up its military to transform from regional power to "world-class," investing heavily in modernization and expanding its global influence, according to a new Pentagon report that was released on Thursday.
The report highlights how China is rushing towards that goal by using covert techniques to steal foreign military technologies and "leapfrogging" the development phases of complex weapons systems. China uses various means to get these technologies including the use of influence operations against individuals, businesses, media organizations, academic institutions and other communities.
As in previous years, the congressionally mandated report assesses China's military and security developments and how those fit in with the nation's long-term growth strategies in the Pacific region. That includes continuing to project its military power in the South China Sea -- where in 2018 China placed anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles on the contested Spratly Islands -- as well as China’s focus on Taiwan, which the Chinese government considers to be a breakaway province.
But it is China's illicit acquisition of foreign military and dual-use technologies that the report describes as having the potential "to degrade core U.S. operational and technological advantages" in the region.
According to the report, China is using multiple tools to gain access to those technologies including "targeted foreign direct investment, cyber theft, and exploitation of private Chinese nationals" access to these technologies, as well as harnessing its intelligence services, computer intrusions, and other illicit approaches."
In 2018, China used dynamic random access memory, aviation technologies and anti-submarine warfare technologies to acquire this type of sensitive, dual-use or military-grade equipment from the United States, the report said.
It is the intersection of American technology and the Chinese military that concerns top Pentagon officials and recently grabbed the attention of President Donald Trump.
Following protests by some employees, Google ended its cooperation with the Defense Department on select projects, including drone targeting technology. The decision led America’s top military officer to call out companies, including Google, that do business with China.
"As leaders, we watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing that there is that indirect benefit -- and frankly indirect may be not a full characterization of the way it really is -- it’s more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military," Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in March.
Days after that remark, Trump criticized Google on Twitter, leading to a White House visit by the company's CEO who assured Trump that Google was committed to working with the Pentagon and not the Chinese military.
Chinese influence operations
China’s coordinated influence operations use tools like propaganda, deception, threats and coercion, as well as public opinion and legal "warfare" to turn world opinion in its favor.
"A cornerstone of China’s strategy includes appealing to overseas Chinese citizens or ethnic Chinese citizens of other countries to advance Party objectives through soft power," the report said. "China also sometimes uses coercion or blackmail to manipulate overseas Chinese citizens to conduct influence operations on behalf of China, such as threatening ethnic Uighurs living in the United States with imprisonment of their family members."
According to the report, influence operations are carried out in academia, think tanks and state-run media with China also looking to these groups to spread messages of support for its security interests. and state-run media with China looking to these groups to spread messages of support for its security interests.