On Espionage

I recently read an article that included the following quote:

“During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent state visit, the two countries agreed to a “common understanding” that neither side would engage in or support commercial espionage. The agreement did not address legitimate intelligence espionage.”

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of foreign cultures that seems to constantly come up, both in how our delegated officials interact with foreign states and how our media reports on those interactions.

To counter the point the person being quoted is trying to make in their last sentence, we would never enter into any agreement that addresses intelligence espionage because that is how we keep check on foreign states, both ally and adversary. How do you know they are doing what they told you they would do during the diplomatic talks if you don’t monitor their actions? Every country does this. As an example, it was interception of communications between two countries that were not considered our adversaries at the time that brought us into WWI. Our intelligence apparatus is older than our country, having been formed during the Revolutionary War, and we are not, nor will any other country, going to agree to anything that will cripple intelligence gathering capabilities.

The problem comes when we try to evaluate that foreign state’s words or actions based on our own ethics, cultures, and mindsets. To China, there is NO difference between commercial espionage and intelligence espionage. To China, theft of an idea is not theft because you have not stolen a thing; thus the huge and invasive knock-off market that originates from there that permeates every industry from clothes to purses to electronics. From our point of view, government and commercial are two different things. To China, the government controls the commercial environment and takes a very active stake in bettering those companies’ placement in the world market because improving China’s commercial interests are one in the same with improving China’s governmental interests.

How can we expect them to differentiate between commercial and governmental espionage and make an active stance against theft of corporate intellectual property when in their eyes there is no difference between the two types of espionage and there is no ethical problem with conducting commercial espionage to better their interests?