China Industrial Espionage
“The Lord spoke to Moses … Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan,
which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes,
every one a leader among them” (Numbers 13:1,2, scriptures from NASB unless otherwise noted).
In July, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Britain’s Domestic Security Service warned that China conducted espionage for stealing intellectual property from Western technology companies. In a report released in June, Microsoft said that Russian hackers attempted infiltrating networks at more than 100 organizations in the U.S. and dozens more across 42 other countries since the war with Ukraine began in February. The FBI estimates the annual cost to the U.S. economy of counterfeit goods, pirated software, and theft of trade secrets is between $225 billion and $600 billion.
To aid in this effort, China has collected personal information to persuade state and local leaders to honor their requests, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, urged business leaders, “The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology, whatever it is that makes your industry tick, and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market.”
The History of Espionage
Economic and industrial espionage has a long history. Father Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles, who visited Jingdezhen, China in 1712 and later used this visit to reveal the manufacturing methods of Chinese porcelain to Europe, is sometimes considered to have conducted an early case of industrial espionage.1
During the 18th century, the French Bureau of Commerce employed both British and French spies to supply industrial information. Spain began a campaign to steal various countries’ technology for shipbuilding, steam engines, copper refining, canals, metallurgy, and cannon-making.2
Modern computers are a boon to industrial spies. Information is stolen by individuals posing as workers, who then gain access to unattended computers or unauthorized hotel staff entering hotel rooms. Airport baggage counters and carousels are prime targets.3
(1) China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing, page 84.
(2) “The Beginnings of Industrial Espionage in Spain (174860),” History of Technology (2010), Volume 30, pages 1-12.
(3) Economic Espionage and Industrial Spying, page 270.
Espionage today is much more sophisticated due to electronic capabilities, with the main targets being communications technologies, IT, energy, scientific research, defense, aviation, and electronics. The Council on Foreign Relations stated that the “Made in China 2025 Plan” lists 10 Chinese industries in which it seeks to develop 70% of the components. Wray says, “They’ve pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors all working on their behalf.”
Espionage appears in both the Old and the New Testaments, for both good and bad purposes. In our theme text, God told Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan prior to their entry. The spies went into the land and most returned with fear in their hearts (verses 27-33). The two spies, Caleb and Joshua, encouraged the people to enter the land. They had remembered the promise of God recorded by Moses. “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us — a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they shall be our prey” (Numbers 14:8-9). God wanted Israel to understand that His power would aid them through all of their challenges and bring them safely into the land. Later, God told Joshua to send spies into Jericho (Joshua 2:1), where they encountered and were aided by Rahab, who is listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.
Gideon was told to spy on the Midianites (Judges 7:9-15). During David’s years of fleeing from Saul, spies sent into Saul’s camp overheard a plot to attack David with 3,000 men and kill him (1 Samuel 24:1-7). David was able to stave off the attack by his own raid, during which he refused to kill Saul. His remorse at cutting off a piece of the robe of “the Lord’s anointed,” was one of the reasons why the prophet Samuel called David, the true king of Israel, “a man after God’s own heart” (1Samuel 13:14).
Contrary to these incidents of spying for righteous purposes, sinister spies were sent by the scribes and chief priests of Jerusalem to follow Jesus during his ministry, “pretend(ing) to be righteous.” When crowds gathered to hear Jesus speak, these false followers tried to trap him with seemingly innocent questions so that they could accuse him of sedition before the governor (Luke 20:20 NAS).
The Apostle Paul was also plagued by spies with sinister purposes, primarily Judaizers posing as followers, who tried to persuade Gentile converts that they should be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. Paul reports, “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4). Interestingly, the word here translated “spy out” (Strong’s 2684) appears in the Septuagint in 2 Samuel 10:3 and 1 Chronicles 19:3 when Israel was “spying out” the territory of the enemy.
Information obtained possibly through spies saved the life of Paul when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. “When it was day, the Jews “formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:12). Paul’s sister’s son learned secretly of their plot and went to Paul to warn him (Acts 23:16). The centurion in charge learned of the plot from Paul and arranged for the apostle to be moved to Caesarea immediately, before the Jewish leadership could act. Something similar happened when the Jew Mordecai prevented the assassination of King Xerxes after overhearing a conversation between two of the king’s advisers (Esther 2:21-23). It later proved to be a life-saver for the entire population of the Jews in the Persian empire when threatened by Haman, King Xerxes’ vizier.
Lessons for Us
In our day of on-line activity, many people trust their personal information to social networking websites, People commonly use search engines that keeps detailed information on users and their activity. With the right determination and online tools, one can uncover previously unknown facts about others. We must make the decision (especially young people) on how to deal with personal information learned about another, no matter how it comes to us. Teachers, health professionals, and those who manage others are in a particularly vulnerable position. Privacy laws dictate how they must act, but it is not always so with others or with non-work-related information.
Being trustworthy is basic to our Christian walk (Psalm 15). A decision to share or to act on private information should be driven by concern for others, as was the case in those mentioned who saved a life. If we act in good faith in order to prevent a crime or a wrong, we are acting righteously (Proverbs 20:6).
However, if we act out of envy, jealousy, or an effort to gain advantage over another (as in the case of industrial espionage), or damage the good name of another, we have violated scriptural principles (Romans 13:8, Luke 6:31).
Paul urges us to be “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Seeking private information for unwholesome reasons is dishonest and if unchecked, can lead to destruction (Proverbs 11:3). Let us resolve to always conduct ourselves in honorable ways in the sight of man, but especially, in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 8:21).