Why FBI paranoia over China is self-defeating for the US
If more proof was needed on America’s unhinged attitude towards China, it came in FBI director Christopher Wray’s speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, which was remarkable in that it was more of a tirade than a conventional address.
Wray accused the Chinese government of “trying to steal our information or technology” and stated that “there is just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, our innovation, and our economic security than China.” He further accused Beijing of attempting to use every means possible to try to steal technology and “undermine our democratic process by influencing our elected officials.”
The speech went further, though, encouraging athletes set to take part in the Winter Olympics in Beijing to leave their personal phones at home and take ‘burner’ phones – an obvious nod to the US government’s ongoing agenda to generate as much bad publicity for China as possible before and during the event. In short, it was an act of gaslighting.
Wray was a Donald Trump-era appointment, and this was underlined by the Mike Pompeo-style hyperbole, racial overtones and blatant paranoia in his address. But it also highlights the Biden administration’s willing embrace of this legacy despite the obvious problems it brings.
This should not overlook the reality that the institution chaired by Wray has absolutely no credibility or good faith when it comes to China. His speech echoed his transformation of the FBI into a racist organisation that has persecuted hundreds of innocent Chinese scholars on baseless claims of technology theft – many of whom were proven to be innocent – posing a severe threat to academic freedom in the process.
In addition, the aggressive racial profiling of Chinese Americans on an everyday level led to a 339% surge in anti-Asian hate crimes throughout America in 2021, impacting many who are not even Chinese. It is obvious that this kind of scaremongering does more to hurt America than it does to protect it.
As I have pointed out previously, America’s attitude towards China on technology is blinded by a mix of ideological bias, the assumption that communists cannot innovate, as well as the racially entrenched stereotype that Chinese people are inherently dishonest and follow unscrupulous business practices.
This buys into a wider false narrative that China's rapid economic growth and technological advancement has been facilitated by the theft of US technology. This train of thought denies the talent and agency of individual Chinese people, putting everything down to a coordinated grand plot orchestrated by the Communist Party to undermine America, as if the country is never truly capable of moving forward on its own terms.
That is why we saw the likes of Pompeo brazenly stating that Chinese students merely came to the US under orders to spy and steal. These claims are not about legitimate fears – nor are they about successfully tracking down culprits, as the FBI has demonstrated. But they have been a deliberate and useful tool in resetting relations, as they persuade the public that open ties with Beijing are not mutually beneficial, and instead depict a China growing at America’s expense. It is a hybrid of both McCarthyism and racism. Wray’s additional claims – that China wishes to influence the US government and subvert democracy – are nothing short of pure fiction.
The background to all this is the Justice Department’s disastrous and widely scorned ‘China Initiative’, in which Wray played a key role. In the belief that Chinese scholars, researchers and students were committing serious, large-scale technology theft, the FBI has harassed them on a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ basis. This kind of aggressive brinkmanship has been broad, rather than specific, in its targets, persecuting people with legitimate research ties to China – indeed any links with China at all have become the threshold for accusations and investigations.
Wray claimed in his speech that the FBI opens up two new China-related counter-intelligence cases every single day – and has 2,000 ongoing. But when they are based on such a low level of credibility, that tells us more about how irrational the FBI is than the reality of any Chinese ‘threat’.
Despite this, there seem to be few high-level objections to what the FBI is doing, no calls for it to be held accountable and, of course, no likelihood of serious change. Those persecuted unfairly have called on Congress to investigate the FBI, but their requests fall on deaf ears. This illustrates how American’s political culture has been poisoned to such an extent on the issue of China that unreasonable and detrimental behaviour is considered acceptable.
In conclusion, Wray’s speech was as dangerous as it was explicitly false. By inciting fear, paranoia and hatred into ordinary Americans, he is continuing the process, started by Trump, of making China a scapegoat for America’s own woes. This sentiment is causing collateral damage across multiple fronts. It is making the US a less appetising place to study, it is undermining research and cooperation on positive scientific developments, and ruining people’s lives and careers through insinuation.
The Biden administration may consider itself morally superior to Trump’s but its embracement of Wray’s racial profiling is a reminder that it doesn’t matter who is president, there is an inherent rottenness driving the country’s key institutions.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.