WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed U.S. tech companies on Thursday for their lack of transparency in regard to the breadth and depth of intellectual property theft the Chinese government conducts on American industries.
"The idea that anyone in the tech space could not know of what the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to steal and the cyberattacks they are making seems incredulous to me," Pompeo said before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Pompeo's comments come a day after the CEOs of tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. When asked by lawmakers if China steals technology from U.S. tech firms, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos largely downplayed the notion.
"Only the CEO of Facebook said, 'yes absolutely,'" Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told Pompeo, referring to the tech CEO testimonies and specifically that of Mark Zuckerberg. "So Apple, Google and Amazon answered that question by saying either they hadn't experienced it or they've read that somewhere but wouldn't comment further," Rubio said. "Why would three of the four CEOs of the four largest tech companies headquartered in the United States be afraid to answer that question?" he added.
"I can only speculate, it's patently clear to anyone who is watching that the Chinese are engaged in intense efforts of intellectual property threat, including technology," Pompeo responded.
U.S. officials have long complained that Chinese intellectual property theft threatens national security and has cost the economy billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs. Beijing maintains it does not engage in intellectual property theft.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also questioned Pompeo on the testimony given by tech CEOs, reiterating that tech leaders said they were largely unaware of Chinese espionage, the nation's top diplomat quipped, "well, they need to get out more."
"I mean there's a long history, a decades-long history of Chinese intellectual property threat, including against technologies," Pompeo added, saying that the Chinese government is "completely willing to bully and to threaten" companies.
Earlier this month, Pompeo said the U.S. was looking at banning TikTok as well as other Chinese social media apps, citing national security concerns.
Pompeo added that the Trump administration was evaluating TikTok akin to Chinese state-backed tech companies Huawei and ZTE, which he has previously described as "Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence."
There has been bipartisan support to remove TikTok from government-owned devices. The new version of the National Defense Authorization Act, if signed into law by President Donald Trump, would ban TikTok from such devices.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has taken concrete steps to discourage U.S. service members and their families from using Chinese-backed tech.
In December, the Defense Information Systems Agency advised that all Department of Defense personnel should not use the Chinese-owned social media platform, citing a "potential risk associated with using the TikTok app." A year earlier, the Pentagon halted sales of Huawei and ZTE mobile phones and modems on military bases around the world, again citing national security concerns.