Theft of China’s US agricultural technology secrets is a “huge” national security threat: analysts


Although small, the seed core is no different from a mini-biological computer. It’s all genetic code, and intellectual property, including billions of dollars in potential value, can fall into the hands of enemies and control food production in and beyond the country.

According to Ross Kennedy, a US-based logistics and supply chain analyst at Fortis Analysis, one of the unmistakable enemies here is China.

In a country with a population of 1.4 billion, “the best job is to have the means to strengthen domestic food security,” he told The Epoch Times affiliate NTD.

“China has proved willing to do whatever it takes to lie, steal, barter, or get the technology.”

Kennedy calls it the realm of “gray zone asymmetric warfare.” China is economically and diplomatically defeating the United States in pursuing global leadership in agricultural production by stealing US agricultural technology and developing its own version, while the country’s most basic needs. He said he could meet.

“Most people are unaware that they can steal corn kernels and soybeans to perpetuate a multi-billion dollar industrial espionage campaign,” Kennedy said.

“If we can’code’the genetically modified organisms, we’ll be able to steal hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars of intellectual property,” he said.

“In recent years, if we could do that, we would be able to uncover the secrets of life for the corn and soybeans and take a major step in terms of time and cost to feed our population.”

Huangshan farmers dry grains
On September 16, 2021, a farmer dried corn grains in Chengkan Village, Huangshan City, Anhui Province, China. (Shi Yalei / VCG via Getty Images)

Seeds as a weapon

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), China is the world’s largest importer of agriculture, with total imports of $ 133.1 billion in 2019.

Suffering from shrinking arable land, natural disasters, and rising food demand to feed one-sixth of the world’s population, the country has shown considerable interest in US agricultural assets for many years. rice field. Seeds ”, May Survey Report (pdf) According to the state of the US-China Economic Security Review Board (USCC).

Seed innovation has generated billions of dollars for US agricultural biotechnology companies such as Monsanto. According to the report, in 2021, the United States exported about $ 174 million worth of seeds to China, accounting for 15 percent of its total exports.

The importance of advances in seed technology has not been lost in China. China’s state media describes seeds as agricultural “chips,” and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has long raised grain security as “the core foundation of national security.”

On a tour of Seed Labs in Hainan Province, the southernmost province of China, Xi called for “holding Chinese seeds firmly with your own hands” and “stabilizing Chinese bowls and achieving food security.”

However, some Chinese scientists are taking shortcuts by completely stealing US agribusiness secrets.

A few days before Xi travels to Hainan, Chinese citizen Xiang Haitao, a former imaging scientist in Monsanto, Missouri, has been guilty of stealing trade secrets from a former employee 29 months after being convicted by a U.S. federal court. Was sentenced to. Prosecutors said Xiang tried to steal algorithms that help farmers optimize agricultural productivity and benefit China’s state laboratories.

In another case, Mo Hailong, director of international business for Beijing-based agribusiness associated with the Chinese administration, from the test site of Monsanto and another US seed producer, Dupont Pioneer, from 2011 to 2012. I tried to steal corn seeds. Three years in federal prison in 2016 after he pleaded guilty to plotting to steal trade secrets.

In 2018, two Chinese rice researchers visited various research and production facilities in the United States.U.S. prosecutor Charged They said they found the stolen rice seeds in their luggage when they were about to return to China at Honolulu Airport, plotting to steal rice production technology. They are currently widely active in China. Two other Chinese rice researchers who helped plan the trip were convicted in a related case in 2018 and sentenced to 1 and 10 years in prison, respectively.

“Although it looks ridiculous, having 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 seeds will allow us to reverse engineer not only the resistance of seeds to a variety of pesticides and insects, but also reverse engineering. “Kennedy said.

Through reverse engineering, China can also unleash the seed’s ability to produce high yields and adaptability to a variety of climates, including hotter and humider environments.

Iowa's agricultural economy under threat from a trade war with China
Wheat will be on display for review at the Cedar County Fair in Tipton, Iowa, on July 13, 2018. (ScottOlson / Getty Images)

“There are places in China where we want to grow corn, soybeans, etc., but we can’t really take advantage of the good genetic techniques to produce seeds that can grow in more difficult situations,” Kennedy said.

“Therefore, one seed matters,” he said. But when China gets more than one species, “suddenly there is a much bigger problem.”

According to analysts, the communist government could also weaponize seeds and effectively wipe out the enemy’s ability to produce large-scale crops. This is a heredity that causes crop failures, creates toxins in plants to poison animals, and weakens certain types of bacteria and fungi to “dramatically increase the pressure of land diseases.” This can be achieved by turning the target trigger on or off. ..

“Large-scale diplomatic lever”

According to Kennedy, only a handful of domestic players, such as Dow Chemical and DuPont, dominate much of US food production, and China has clear goals.

“In reality, you only have to break into one or create a problem,” he said. “Now you’re talking about about 1.4 billion mouths to feed the market in places like China where you had to buy American and European genetic technology. And now they act on their own and We have the means to compete and deliver it to other parts of the world and thus undermine US efforts. “

Such technology thefts could become a “massive diplomatic tool” for China and undermine US diplomatic and national security efforts, Kennedy said.

“Similarly, they export Belt and Road construction technology. [Initiative]”One Belt, One Road can also be done with food and energy,” said Kennedy on Beijing’s $ 1 trillion project to promote trade and infrastructure partnerships with Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Mentioned.

According to Kennedy, in places like Africa where cultivable land and labor are plentiful but modern seed technology is lacking, “China is coming,” Hey, we have farm equipment, methods, Machinery, and this very expensive intellectual property, we can provide you with soil to get out of food problems and food poverty, but we want access to these important minerals. increase. .'”

Sudanese farmers snack on peanuts harvested on August 8, 2020 on a farm in the village of Ardashiba in Al-Jazira, eastern central Sudan, 70 km south of the capital. (AshrafShazly / AFP via Getty Images)

Critics of the Belt and Road Initiative call this project a form of “debt trap diplomacy.” This supports developing countries with sustainable debt levels and therefore remains vulnerable to the transfer of strategic infrastructure and resources to Beijing. Last September, the Institute AidData counted at least 42 countries with public debt exposure to China, which exceeds one-tenth of GDP.

However, analysts pointed out that GM seeds differ from construction projects in that they have a relatively short lifespan. “It only works once and actually stays in the bag for a year or two.”

“This is how China has an annual way to maintain control over certain things,” Kennedy said. By managing seeds, China can determine the conditions that resource-dependent countries must comply with.

“This is a variant of debt-trap diplomacy, but it’s also something that attacks quickly, in the immediate vicinity of the house, in a way that regains a bridge or a railroad,” he added.

Securing land for China

China’s purchase of US farmland, another aspect of Beijing’s involvement in the US agricultural sector, has also sounded economic and national security alarms.

In 2013, Chinese meat processor Shuanghui International Holdings (now WH Group) acquired Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia, the world’s leading pork producer, and has so far been a U.S. consumer brand in China. It was the biggest acquisition of.

The deal gives Hong Kong-based companies more than 146,000 acres of land across six states, African swine fever reduces herds, and a pandemic blockade disrupts China’s production, the USCC reports. Therefore, in 2020, we supplied a record amount of pork to China.

Beijing’s goal is to be able to convert as much American farmland as possible to provide it exclusively to China.

“Now you have secured that acre, and on a scale of hundreds or thousands of acres, even if it is in foreign soil, you as the owner of the land yourself for your country. We have secured our supply chain, “he said.

On April 27, 2022, a machine sown corn and soybeans in a field in Liaocheng, eastern Shandong Province, China. (STR / AFP via Getty Images)

Officially, according to the 2020 USDA report, China’s investment in US agricultural land has grown more than 25 times from 13,720 acres to 352,140 acres between 2010 and 2020 ().pdf).

This still represents about 1% of all foreign-owned acres in the United States, but USCC reports that the mechanism for tracking land ownership and usage is not at the federal level, with little impact on Chinese investors. You can bypass the rule without giving.

“This is a big problem, it’s not going away,” Kennedy said.

Such lands could be a potential vector for the administration to conduct various forms of espionage against the United States, Kennedy said. Fufeng Group, a Chinese animal nutrition supplier, announced in November last year that it was in talks to buy 370 acres of land to build the first US corn flour mill in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The proposed plant location, about 12 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base, has aroused fears that it is being used to spy on US military activities in the area.

“Once we have land, we have a choice,” he said. Obtaining vast lands “has been a high priority for China for a long time,” he added.

Some lawmakers have already sounded the alarm. At the end of last month, Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse introduced a law aimed at banning foreigners associated with Beijing from acquiring US farmland.

“When we begin to transfer responsibility for our food supply chain to hostile foreign countries, we may be forced to export food that is grown within our borders and intended for our use. “Newhouse said. press release..

According to Kennedy, the threat of Chinese agricultural espionage calls for raising public awareness and changing thinking.

According to analysts, the first question to ask when it comes to collaboration involving sensitive technology is, “Is this the last resort to partner with China in this regard?”

Rather than considering the benefits of collaboration only from an economic perspective, Kennedy said business and academic leaders should also take national security into account and ask: Is there a program or initiative? If the answer is yes, then you need to pursue it. “



Eva Fu is a New York-based writer of The Epoch Times, focusing on Sino-US relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at [email protected]