It is likely no accident that Edward Snowden is hiding out in China. No country has benefited more from his revelations about the U.S. government's widespread eavesdropping and surveillance than the People's Republic. Indeed, Snowden almost singlehandedly derailed any chance that President Obama could strike a "stop your cyberattacks" deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping in their recent fandango in Palm Springs.
The tragedy -- and absurdity -- of all this is that the U.S. is now being lumped in with China as an Orwellian state. In truth, the primary goal of the Obama administration's surveillance is to stop terrorist groups like al Qaeda from killing Americans.
In contrast, China's Great Firewall, and related eavesdropping efforts, has been used for more than a decade to suppress everything from democracy and free speech to religious expression, women's rights, labor unions, and environmental protests. Through such spying, China's totalitarian regime has managed to ship off hundreds of thousands of innocent victims to forced labor camps.
While the media has a field day with Le Affaire Snowden, it is critical that we not lose sight of the grave economic and national security threats that China's cyberattacks continue to pose. Here are two stark truths that every American must understand.
First, China is stealing weapons systems from both the Pentagon and private defense contractors -- from fighter plane blueprints and drone technologies to ballistic and cruise missiles. Such theft not only rips off the American taxpayers who financed the development of these systems. Such theft is also designed to create an arsenal of weapons whose major purpose is likely to be to kill the sons and daughters of America if and, more likely, when hostilities break out between China and the U.S.
Second, China is stealing a wide variety of designs, processes, technologies, and source code from American corporations. By stealing such intellectual property, Chinese corporations save billions in research and development costs. This, in turn, translates into a significant competitive advantage in R&D-intensive industries -- from aircraft and autos to pharmaceuticals and software. The victims are not just corporate shareholders but also those American workers who lose their jobs due to intellectual property theft.
The question, then, is not whether China or the U.S. is the bigger spy. Rather, it continues to be: What should America do to protect its own self-interest in the face of China's government-sponsored cyber warfare?
Recently, I debated just that issue on CNN with cyber security expert and former Senior Counsel at the National Security Agency, Joel Brenner. Brenner's view, which I believe closely mirrors that of the Obama Administration, is that America owes too much money to China and the American economy is too inter-dependent with that of China's for America to take any real significant action against Chinese cyberattacks.
My view is that this is a defeatist Council of Despair that rationalizes inaction about one of the single greatest threats now facing America. However, as a realist, I don't believe our politicians are going to change their modern variation of Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. That leaves only one course of action for American citizens: Don't buy Made in China products!
I know not buying Made in China is difficult because China has decimated so much of our industrial base. However, if every American made a sincere effort to find alternatives to Made in China, this would be the single most effective way to address the growing China threat. After all, American consumers are leading the way in helping to finance China's economic growth in general and the buildup of its military machine in particular.
And please note: A policy of Don't Buy Made In China is not protectionist and contrary to free trade. Rather, it is simply a prudent self defense against a totalitarian state intent on stealing our defense and industrial secrets and ultimately our jobs, national security, and way of life.
Peter Navarro is a business professor at the University of California-Irvine and director of the film Death By China, out this month on DVD.