China’s foreign ministry on Monday dismissed a report that US officials were worried that giant, Chinese-made cargo container cranes at American ports could be used to hide US military or business logistics. Apparent concern over the hulking machine being used as a tool by China’s intelligence services highlighted what an American business leader in Beijing described to CBS News as a “chilling” of economic relations between the world’s two largest economies.
A Wall Street Journal article published over the weekend said US national security and military officials are “growing concerned” because some American cargo port giant machines made by Chinese state-run manufacturer ZPMC “have sophisticated sensors that can register and track the origin and destination of containers.” ”
The newspaper said the technology could enable Chinese officials to “capture information about materials sent in or out of the country to support US military operations around the world” and attempt to disrupt trade.
Tensions between China and the United States have risen in recent years, senior serving and former American military officials have voiced Concerns that the superpowers might even engage in war — perhaps on tiny, democratically-governed islands Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.
Against that backdrop, China’s foreign ministry on Monday rejected the spying Crane suggestion as “extremely misleading” and said it would only serve to “mislead the American people.”
But former US counterintelligence official Bill Evanina told The Wall Street Journal that high-tech cargo cranes may actually represent “the perfect combination of legitimate business that can also masquerade as covert intelligence gathering.”
The newspaper cited a statement from the U.S. Embassy in China, labeling the information in the report an attempt to disrupt the still-large amount of trade between the two countries.
“Playing the ‘China card’ and floating the ‘China threat’ theory is irresponsible and will harm US interests,” the statement to the journal said.
The latest back-and-forth between Beijing and Washington came as China’s National People’s Congress — the world’s largest rubber-stamp parliament — convened in the Chinese capital. About 3,000 delegates from the vast nation gathered to formally enshrine the will of their leader, President Xi Jinping, into law.
This year, in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that began in China three years ago, repairing the damage done to the country’s economy as a side effect of the virus emerged as an urgent priority for the Xi administration.
Premier Li Keqiang, China’s second most powerful leader, told the assembled delegates that the country’s development target this year would be about 5% economic growth.
It is not clear that this level of growth, if achieved, will translate into good news for American companies that do business in China, and as US-China relations continue to deteriorate, some US businesses fear they are already suffering losses. .
“There’s definitely a chill in the air,” said Michael Hart, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. “Companies feel like they’ve been pushed out of certain industries, and so there’s a question mark for a lot of U.S. companies, you know, are we really welcome?”
How welcome they feel will largely depend on President Xi, who will officially begin his unprecedented third term as China’s leader later this week.
Hart and many other business leaders from both China and the US will be watching this week’s congress in Beijing closely for any clues as to whether Xi will escalate confrontations with the US and its allies this year, or try to dial it back.
The Chinese embassy’s statement in the Wall Street Journal, warning that the latest allegations of potential intelligence gathering by Chinese apparatuses “will harm US interests,” may be some of the first tea leaves read as China’s rubber-stamp Congress gets to work.
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