Houston’s closed Chinese consulate named ‘premier hub’ for worldwide science and technology collection

The Chinese consulate in Houston, whose closure was ordered by the Trump administration last year, was a “major hub” for Beijing’s global science and technology collection efforts, according to a new study.

Georgetown University’s Emerging Technology and Security Center examined 642 “international technology cooperation opportunities” between 2015 and 2020 identified by Chinese diplomats and found the Houston post to be the key hub for science and technology (S&T) collection. Worldwide. American critics say that intellectual property theft and piracy have been key in China’s push to close the technology gap with the United States and the West.

“From January 2015 to July 2020, Houston Consulate staff identified more science and technology projects than any other [People’s Republic of China] diplomatic post in the world, and referred 89% of the projects that originate in the United States ”, reads the report of the Georgetown researchers. “During that time, the United States was the largest source of information technology projects targeted by Chinese science and technology diplomats.”

The researchers also said that the consulate for two years beginning in 2017 co-sponsored a series of “matchmaking” events with various Chinese technology transfer centers, events that attracted some 300 US companies a year.

After the Trump administration ordered the consulate closed, China’s collection efforts visibly changed. The Georgetown researchers said they observed “only one additional US project” registered by the Department of International Cooperation of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology after the closure of the Houston consulate.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said Americans cannot be complacent or complicit in Chinese efforts to bypass American innovation.

“The report is an important reminder that the operations carried out outside the Chinese consulate in Houston were not one-off,” Rubio said in a statement. “They were part of Beijing’s systematic exploitation of our laws and the openness of our society, an effort that, to one degree or another, reaches almost every industry, university, and government institution. We need to take action now to protect our country, our companies and our citizens from the spying of the Chinese Communist Party. “

The Georgetown investigators’ report sheds new light on the Trump administration’s claims that the Houston consulate was at the center of a crucial espionage operation that was accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when US tech companies they were working on vaccine development.

In July 2020, the Trump administration gave the consulate 72 hours to shut down, sparking criticism that the move was politically motivated to reinforce the perception that President Trump was tough on China ahead of the November elections.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time that the Houston site was “a center for espionage and theft of intellectual property.” Beijing quickly retaliated by ordering the US consulate in Chengdu city to close in July 2020.

According to the Georgetown researchers, the Chinese consulate in Houston and Chinese diplomatic posts in Russia “were noted for their outsized contributions to the Chinese government bulletin on scientific and technological achievements abroad.” Most of China’s large-scale technology acquisition efforts are shared across multiple nations, with 12% of projects in a database compiled by Georgetown researchers originating from the US.

US government officials say China continues to target American scientific and technological research.

The National Institutes of Health told Congress last month that 500 scientists were under investigation for being compromised by China and other foreign powers. In April, for example, a federal jury in Tennessee convicted a former Coca-Cola engineer, Xiaorong You, in a conspiracy to commit economic espionage for China.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said last year that his office opens a new counterintelligence case related to China “approximately every 10 hours.”

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