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DOJ lawsuit part of bigger tech crackdown on China

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (C) announces the creation of a new initiative to crack down on Chinese intelligence officials pilfering intellectual property from U.S. corporations through hacking and espionage during a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, on November 1, 2018. - Sessions announced charges Thursday against Chinese and Taiwan companies for theft of business secrets from U.S. chip giant Micron. Sessions said the case was the latest in a series that are part of a state-backed program by Beijing to steal U.S. industrial and commercial secrets. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

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Micron Technology makes memory chips for electronics including smartphones. The semiconductor company, like many stateside tech firms, relies heavily on Chinese manufacturers. But the dependence comes with a risk, it makes their intellectual property and trade secrets vulnerable to theft by Chinese companies. Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the indictment of three former employees of Micron, as well as Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, a Chinese state-owned company and a Taiwanese semiconductor company, United Microelectronics Corp., on charges of conspiring to steel technology from Micron. 

Jim Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says this is emblematic of the dilemma facing U.S. tech companies.

“How do we work with Chinese companies in a way that doesn’t end up selling them the rope we would use to hang ourselves?” he said. 

The Trump administration’s broad answer includes the crackdown on intellectual property theft, tariffs, limits on U.S. tech exports to China, and restrictions on visas for tech workers and students.

“The goal is really to disentangle the U.S. economy from the Chinese economy,” said Susan Shirk who chairs the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego. She thinks the strategy is too heavy-handed. Tech companies are also conflicted. They want protection for their intellectual property, while criticizing tariffs for disrupting their business.

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