Everyone recalls, of course, the infamous Chinese spy balloon that collected critical military intelligence as it drifted across the United States, to the consternation of the Biden administration. Chinese cyberattacks have also been responsible for some of the most intrusive breaches of U.S. government websites, including a hack into the personnel files of millions of government employees in the Office of Personnel Management.
Yet even these well-publicized incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. Many of China’s spying and influence operations are much more pervasive, stealthy, and insidious than commonly understood. While there is a growing recognition that apps such as TikTok are potential Chinese government tools of influence and espionage—with the ability to track keystrokes, use your phone as a surveillance device, and collect biometric data including faceprints and voiceprints—there’s less awareness of the other tools at the regime’s disposal. Beijing is also establishing cultural associations, dominating Chinese language instruction programs, buying private secondary education institutions, purchasing land near military installations, taking over Chinese community organizations, and eating up local Chinese-language media.