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The C919 airliner, a jet plane under development by the Chinese state-owned aerospace firm Comac, represents an ambitious attempt by China to create a domestic rival to counter foreigners Boeing and Airbus. The sky-faring vessel also appears, in the estimation of the sleuths at hack-investigation firm CrowdStrike, per a new report which supplements earlier federal indictments, to be a beneficiary of rampant intellectual property theft sponsored by the state.
From 2010 to 2015, a sprawling collection of burglars—intelligence officers at China’s Ministry of State Security, underground hackers, security researchers, and corporate moles—is said to have infiltrated overseas suppliers, including GE, Honeywell, France’s Safran, and others. The group’s apparent intention was to steal technologies pertinent to the C919’s development, such as designs for a new turbofan engine and other component parts. It is “highly likely,” the CrowdStrike researchers write, that the makers of a particular Chinese-made engine, the CJ-1000AX, “benefited significantly from the cyber espionage efforts of the MSS”—China’s Ministry of State Security, that is—”knocking several years (and potentially billions of dollars) off of its development time.”
The report is an eye-opening indictment of Beijing’s economic subterfuge. It lays out, in depth, how China “uses a multi-faceted system of forced technology transfer, joint ventures, physical theft of intellectual property from insiders, and cyber-enabled espionage to acquire the information it needs” to leapfrog its peers.
The turbofan engine is just one example of likely trade secret plundering which former U.S. officials have dubbed “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.” Such violations remain a major point of contention between China and the U.S. as on-again, off-again trade talks continue. If any deal is to fly, it’ll have to address all the thievery.