In September 2015, following mounting pressure exerted by the US on China, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a US proposal that neither country would steal the other’s intellectual property (IP) for commercial gain. This bilateral agreement was quickly expanded when the US succeeded in inserting similar language into the November 2015 G20 communique. A handful of other countries also pursued their own bilateral agreements.
Three years after the inking of the US–China agreement, this report examines China’s adherence to those agreements in three countries: the US, Germany and Australia. This work involved a combination of desktop research as well as interviews with senior government officials in all three countries.
The rationale for this multi-country report was to examine patterns and trends among countries that had struck agreements with China.
In all three countries, it was found that China was clearly, or likely to be, in breach of its agreements. China has adapted its approach to commercial cyber espionage, and attacks are becoming more targeted and use more sophisticated tradecraft. This improved tradecraft may also be leading to an underestimation of the scale of ongoing activity.
Despite initial hopes that China had accepted a distinction between (legitimate) traditional political–military espionage and (illegal) espionage to advantage commercial companies, assessments from the three countries suggest that this might be wishful thinking.
China appears to have come to the conclusion that the combination of improved techniques and more focused efforts have reduced Western frustration to levels that will be tolerated. Unless the targeted states ramp up pressure and potential costs, China is likely to continue its current approach.