A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday demanded answers over allegations of a Chinese cyber espionage scheme involving microchips to steal sensitive data from Apple and Amazon, on the same day that top security officials warned that China, not Russia, presents “the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat” to America.
It was the latest sign of rising unhappiness over the state of the bilateral relationship, which has seen sharp clashes over trade and security policy in recent months.
In separate letters, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, South Dakota Republican, and Sens. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, questioned top executives at Super Micro Computer, Apple and Amazon over reports that Chinese spies siphoned information from the U.S. tech giants and possibly others via tiny chips inserted on server circuit boards made by Super Micro.
The Chinese government and the firms in question have soundly rejected the claim, which first appeared in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling it a “gratuitous accusation.”
“If this news report is accurate,” Mr. Rubio and Mr. Blumenthal wrote, “the potential infiltration of Chinese back doors could provide a foothold for adversaries and competitors to engage in commercial espionage and launch destructive cyber attacks.”
The backdoor hacking scandal was expanding even as Justice Department officials were announcing charges against a Chinese government operative who they said tried to steal secrets from U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, including GE Aviation.
Yanjun Xu, a senior officer with the Ministry of State Security, is accused of luring U.S. executives to China in order to steal their company’s technology, officials said at a press conference, adding that they believed the case was the first time a Chinese government spy has been extradited to the United States to face charges.
Mr. Xu was arrested in Belgium in April and returned to the United States on Tuesday.
On Capitol Hill, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen offered their own warnings to the Senate Homeland Security committee about the long-term threat posed by China’s economic and military rise.
“Russia is in many ways fighting to stay relevant after the fall of the Soviet Union,” Mr. Wray said. “They’re fighting today’s fight. China’s is fighting tomorrow’s fight.”
Committee members grilled the two top security officials on President Trump’s accusation last month that China is trying to meddle in the upcoming congressional midterm elections. Mr. Trump said Republican voters were being targeted because of his aggressive trade policies targeting Beijing.
Ms. Nielsen said China was “exerting unprecedented effort to influence American opinion,” but also acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had also “not seen to date any Chinese attempts to compromise election infrastructure.”
Top Chinese officials have repeatedly denied interfering in the U.S. political process, a charge President Trump first raised at a U.N. Security Council meeting last month.
Mr. Rubio unveiled the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s (CECC) annual report on human rights in China — a 300-page document that tracks what it calls a “downward trajectory” in human rights since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
The CECC was created in 2000 and has long been critical of China’s economic, security and rights policies.
This year’s version came accompanied with proposed legislation urging the Trump administration to help China’s Muslim minority respond to a sweeping crackdown in China’s northwest — where up to 1 million Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities are being held in arbitrary detention, according to U.N. estimates.
The proposal comes amid reports Wednesday that government officials in Xinjiang have revised legislation that would provide a legal basis for the camps, which have been the target of international criticism.
Chinese officials deny such internment camps exist and say “petty criminals” are sent to facilities which are “employment training centers.”
⦁ Staff writer Jeff Mordock contributed to this report, which was based in part on wire service dispatches.
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