Everything Chinese is a national security threat to the United States

Mar 30, 2024
New energy vehicle concept drawing.

After the battles over 5G, social media and advanced microchips, Chinese electric cars are the new front line of US economic warfare.

Like any environmentally correct person in North America, I was toying with the idea of buying a Tesla to replace my beat-up eight-year-old Honda. While doing some research, this came up and suddenly everything makes sense. Its website says: “Tesla never sells or rents your data to third-party companies. This includes your personal data and driving history. We only share information about you, your products or how you use them with your approval.”

Approval? I guess that’s in the fine print you might easily miss.

Rather than just being a car company, Tesla is more like a tech and social media firm that endlessly sucks up data about you with your vehicle serving as their platform. The United States doesn’t have something like the European Union’s general data protection regulation (GDPR). But I am sure Tesla does very honourable things with your data.

Call me slow but now I understand what anti-China hawks such as US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was talking about early this month. Speaking on MSNBC, she said: “Imagine a world in which there are a million, for example, millions of cars, Chinese cars on US roads, collecting this data every minute of every day on millions of Americans and sending that back to Beijing.”

The Biden administration has directed her department to investigate the national security threats posed by Chinese-made smart cars. “We’re taking this very seriously. I mean, as you point out, I’m already quite nervous about it,” she added.

Elsewhere last month, Raimondo hypothesised that the Chinese could just disable all those cars on American roads by pressing a button. Now we know where she got the idea: Elon Musk, a major Pentagon contractor.

Not only can Tesla switch off your car, it can selectively disable its many control features if they think you are not operating properly. Also, some software upgrades are proprietary, so you may need their approval if you re-sell.

Meanwhile, the British parliament’s joint national security strategy committee has just received a report that similarly warned of the threats posed by Chinese electric cars in Britain.

Filed by Professor Jim Saker, director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University, London, it said:

“Connected vehicles can be stopped remotely. If this happened on a motorway at 70mph and the automatic braking system was applied to a vehicle the traffic would simply pile in the back. If this occurred at strategic points it could gridlock cities. Chinese-connected EV’s flooding the country could be the most effective Trojan horse that the Chinese establishment has to impact the UK.”

The UK parliament’s intelligence and security committee claimed as early as last August that China had penetrated “every sector” of the British economy. It especially singled out Chinese-made electric cars. “Modern cars are increasingly dependent on ‘over the air’ software updates,” it said. “The concern is that this is not only vulnerable to hackers, but also potentially the manufacturers themselves, with those in China subject to national security laws that force them to comply with government requests. This risk is compounded by the fact that Chinese technology is proliferating in Western supply chains.”

By now, it’s pretty clear that so far as the US is concerned, with Britain and others faithfully following, China will not be allowed to succeed in any high-end supply chains or tech fields: 5G (Huawei and ZTE), social media (TikTok), advanced microchips, electric cars and the like.

This is economic warfare in lieu of a hot war or an invasion, because China is not Iraq or Afghanistan. But it’s also driven by Cold War-like paranoia. Since large swathes of the internet and global telecoms infrastructure are under US electronic surveillance, while American social media and telecoms are already open to US security supervision, Washington assumes the Chinese will do the same if and when they achieve the capability.

As I have always said, whatever Washington accuses China of doing, you can be sure it has already been doing it for much longer and at an unimaginably larger scale.


Republished from the South China Morning Post, March 24, 2024

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