Research Shows Chinese Tech Giants Playing Key Role In Aiding Massive Surveillanceby Diana Ngo August 14, 2020
Chinese tech companies are becoming increasingly important international actors, making critical contributions in a range of areas including cutting edge research and enabling connectivity for developing countries.
But their rapid international expansion and their close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, are posing real concerns about whether they may be being used to further the party’s strategic and geopolitical interests, says the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’ (ASPI)s International Cyber Policy Centre.
The ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre has created a public database that maps the massive, global expansion of 12 Chinese tech giants working across the telecommunications, Internet and biotech sectors. The public database aims to promote a more informed debate about the growth of some of China’s largest tech firms and highlight areas where this expansion is leading to political and geostrategic dilemmas.
The research shows that Chinese companies are aiding surveillance and providing sophisticated public security technologies, including communications monitoring and facial recognition, to authoritarian regimes and developing countries.
China’s top 12 tech companies
Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. is a Chinese multinational networking, telecommunications equipment, and services company headquartered in Shenzhen. It is privately owned by its employees through Huawei Investment & Holding Co., Ltd., though the specifics of this ownership arrangement are opaque.
By 2007, Huawei had established more than 300 Chinese Communist Party branches and counted 12,000 Chinese Communist Party members among its employees, according to a 2017 Chinese media report. Companies in China, including foreign firms, are required by law to establish a party organization. Huawei is also believed to have numerous Chinese Communist Youth League organizations.
Tencent Holdings Limited is a multinational investment holding conglomerate headquartered in Shenzhen. Through its subsidiaries, it provides a variety of Internet-related services and products including social media, entertainment, e-commerce, online advertising services, gaming and artificial intelligence (AI).
As of early 2017, Tencent boasted nine general branches, 89 party branches and 3,386 members. Internally, the firm has built an automated system within its human resources department for identifying Chinese Communist Party members. Tencent was the first Internet company to create a party propaganda magazine, Tengxian.
Alibaba Group Holding Limited is a Chinese multinational conglomerate specializing in e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and technology, headquartered in Hangzhou. Alibaba is one of the largest companies in the world.
There are now around 200 party branches and over 7,000 party members at Alibaba, and around 600 new party members join the company every year.
Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and was a member of the 10th Zhejiang Provincial Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, from 2008 to 2012. Ma was part of Xi Jinping’s entourage when Xi became the first Chinese Communist Party General Secretary to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017.
Baidu, Inc. is a Chinese multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products and AI, headquartered in Beijing’s Haidian District.
As of late 2016, Baidu had 3,600 registered Chinese Communist Party members out of a total of around 40,000 employees, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China. Key technical positions within the company are occupied by party members in order to ensure the Chinese Communist Party control.
Baidu CEO Robin Li, although not a party member himself, is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s primary United Front body. Li, alongside Alibaba’s Jack Ma, was part of Xi Jinping’s entourage at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017.
China Mobile is a central state-owned entity of the Chinese government and the largest mobile operator in the world by subscriber base. It provides mobile voice and data services as well as fixed-line services, has 40 submarine and terrestrial cables, and a total of 138 points of presence covering 91 cities worldwide, as of 2018.
In the last few years, China Mobile has expanded its overseas presence to Africa, where China has invested large sums of money into infrastructure, the Middle East where it is looking to build strong telecommunications and technology partnerships, and locations that are major destinations of Chinese tourists and enterprises.
Headquartered in Beijing, China Telecom is a Chinese state-owned telecommunications operator with the largest fixed-line network in China. China Telecom offers a range of services from retail mobile, fixed-line and satellite services to a global content delivery network (CDN) to telecommunications network construction for overseas operators.
China Telecom owns and operates ChinaNet (AS4134), the largest internet network in China and the second largest in the world. In March 2019, the firm was linked to the leak of user SIM, phone and location data from Nokia handsets out of Norway.
China Unicom, or CUniq, is a state-owned telecommunications company headquartered in Beijing. It offers retail, enterprise and carrier telecommunication services.
The company is involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through the construction of terrestrial and submarine cables. Carrying out party work comes first and foremost and is central to the company culture.
ZTE Corporation is a Chinese state-controlled telecommunications company headquartered in Shenzhen.
Since May 2018, Tian Dongfang has served as ZTE’s party secretary. The appointment was reportedly made by the government of Shenzhen.
China Electronics Technology Group (CETC)
China Electronics Technology Group Corporation is a state-owned enterprise that develops hardware and software for the Chinese military, headquartered in Beijing.
CETC works closely with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese Communist Party. Its chairman, Xiong Qunli, is also the company’s party secretary, and its general manager holds the position of deputy party secretary.
Like many state-owned enterprises, CETC engages in united front work; efforts to build the party’s control and influence over groups outside the party.
WuXi AppTec Group
WuXi AppTec Group is a global pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, and medical device company headquartered in Shanghai.
WuXi Chairman and CEO Li Ge has commended Chinese Communist Party branch work in the company and has called on party branches and members to play an active role in the company. A 2013 report claims that 1,000 of the 7,000 company employees were members of the party.
Hikvision (controlled by CETC)
Hikvision is a state-controlled surveillance technology company headquartered in Hangzhou. Hikvision’s chairman Chen Zongnian is also secretary of the CETHIK Group party committee.