The debate about the nature of the rise of China, what is represents, and whether or not China poses a threat to the United States is a sharply contested issue. Aaron Friedberg writes that, “It is past time for Americans to take seriously the challenge posed by the continuing growth of China’s military power” (Friedberg, 19). Friedberg continues, by explaining that Chinese strategists have been shifting their focus away from fighting potential wars against nuclear powers to forms of limited war in Chinese littoral areas such as Taiwan, but also to potential conflicts with Japan and the United States.

While much has been written about why China has engaged in a policy of military build ups and modernization of their forces, less has been written about how they accomplished this. As Clausewitz famously wrote: “We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means” (Clausewitz). Espionage is also an extension of political intercourse, in this case a policy that aims to support China’s rise to global power, a rise that may one day challenge the United States. Chinese industrial espionage is one method used to reach this goal. By its very nature, espionage is covert or clandestine. It is hidden from public view in most cases. However, it is quite impressive how open China is about espionage, a subject which will be explored in this paper.

Spying holds a unique place in the minds of Chinese political and military planners, the ideas and concepts long ago embedded in Chinese culture by great minds such as Confucius and Sun Tzu. In the West, intelligence agencies serve to inform elected leaders of what is going on in the world so that they can make the best possible policy decisions. In China, “the PRC’s intelligence apparatus is more than just a support department for policymakers. It is inextricably linked to the foreign policy decision making process and internal methods of economic development and political control” (Eftimiades, 14). The vertical integration of intelligence gathering with economics and political control cannot be over emphasized here. Chinese intelligence operations are not a mirror image of American’s approach to intelligence operations.

Chinese espionage is used as an arm of policymakers to target scientific, technological, and military infrastructures in the Western world (Eftimiades, 17), and China is “the most active foreign power engaged in the illegal acquisition of American technology” (Overend, 34). The Chinese government does this using a uniquely Chinese “comprehensive system for spotting foreign technologies, acquiring them by every means imaginable, and converting them into weapons and competitive goods” (Hannas, 2). Some key differences between Chinese and Western espionage must be understood at this point.

First, Chinese espionage relies largely on open source intelligence (OSINT), which it has professionalized and developed to a high degree using library science. On the other hand, Western intelligence agencies, like the CIA, emphasize human intelligence (HUMINT) as a part of their National Clandestine Service. Both China and America conduct OSINT and HUMINT, but China focuses on OSINT, while America focuses on HUMINT. China does not just pursue different programs, projects, initiatives, or policies than American intelligence agencies, but in fact the Chinese operate using a completely different intelligence and information paradigm.

China has always relied heavily on foreign technology. During the era of Mao’s “lean to one side” policy, the Chinese relied heavily on Soviet advisers for technical assistance. This lasted until sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, when the Sino-Russo split occurred, with both sides accusing one another of being revisionist in regards to communist ideology. The Soviet Union helped develop Chinese heavy industry, but their most significant contribution was to Chinese nuclear science (Hannas, 8). After the ideological and practical split with the Soviet Union, China had to find other ways of developing new technologies.

The methodology that China uses to accomplish this is called qingbao, which means intelligence/information (Hannas, 18). The pairing and interchangeability of these words in the Chinese approach to both linguistics and intelligence gathering must be emphasized. Miao Qihao, the former director of the Shanghai branch of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, described the qingbao system as “combined an intelligence function with conventional information activity” (Hannas, 20). Two other Chinese writers on the topic describe qingbao, stating that: “there are similarities between what we refer to as ‘information’ and what the foreign intelligence community refers to as intelligence work” (Huo, 230).

This open source approach to intelligence gathering is conducted by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, the Beijing Document Service, the China Defense S&T Information center, along with a countless number of other agencies and institutions. These organizations pour through scientific journals, import foreign technology (sometimes through front companies), comb through foreign patents, read research papers, analyze conference transcripts, academic thesis papers, and conduct foreign document or personnel exchanges (Hannas, 20).