American officials are concerned that Chinese technology at ports across the country could provide the communist nation insights about shipping traffic and national defense activities, according to a Sunday report from The Wall Street Journal.
Cranes and large steel structures manufactured by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries, also known as ZPMC, contain sensors that monitor the destination of shipping containers which move through American ports, the WSJ reported. Defense authorities have voiced concern that the Chinese-owned engineering company may be offering the Chinese Communist Party data regarding items shipped for the purpose of American military operations.
“Cranes can be the new Huawei,” former National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director Bill Evanina told the outlet, comparing the infrastructure to products manufactured by the Shenzhen-based telecommunications company. “It’s the perfect combination of legitimate business that can also masquerade as clandestine intelligence collection.”
Evanina added that the cranes could be remotely controlled by adversarial actors seeking to disrupt the flow of goods from American shipping facilities.
Ports in Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland which are sometimes used by nearby military bases have recently acquired new cranes from ZPMC. FBI agents reportedly uncovered information-gathering technology aboard a ship delivering ZPMC cranes to the Port of Baltimore in 2021.
The defense spending bill passed by Congress at the end of last year directs the United States Maritime Administration and Department of Homeland Security to conduct an unclassified study to “assess whether there are cybersecurity or national security threats posed by foreign manufactured cranes at United States ports.” ZPMC claims to control 70% of the worldwide crane market, while one unnamed American official told The Wall Street Journal that some 80% of ship-to-shore cranes at ports in the United States are manufactured by the firm.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning dismissed the revelations from The Wall Street Journal as “complete paranoia” during a Monday press briefing in Beijing, according to a report from Newsweek, and said the concerns are “misleading to the American public.”
Reports of the possible spy cranes come shortly after at least one Chinese surveillance balloon recently traversed the continental United States. The vessel crossed Montana, the location of many defense assets and missile silos, then traveled over states such as Kansas and Missouri before the object was shot down by the American military off the coast of the Carolinas. The balloon was reportedly one of several deployed over military sites across the planet.
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Anxieties surrounding Chinese espionage also occur as President Joe Biden prohibits TikTok, a social media platform controlled by Chinese technology company ByteDance, on devices owned by the federal government. The move was preceded by several similar bans issued by state governments and requests from lawmakers to limit the platform’s reach in the United States.
The White House is also expected to unveil an executive order that would ban American investors from funding the development of Chinese advanced semiconductors, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other technologies with surveillance and military applications, according to a recent report from The New York Times. Lawmakers threatened to pursue their own investment restrictions in the absence of plans from the executive branch.