The United States has charged companies in China and Taiwan and three individuals with stealing trade secrets from a US semi-conductor company, the justice department announced on Thursday.
The prosecution comes amid heightened trade tensions between China and the US, and as American officials raise alarms about the threat of Chinese economic espionage.
The justice department says the defendants, including a Chinese-owned company singled out this week by the Trump administration, targeted Idaho-based Micron over a technology it produces that stores memory in electronics.
The Trump administration this week imposed restrictions on technology exports to one of the indicted companies, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit.
The administration has characterized China, along with Russia, as a strategic competitor of the United States. The US has taken an increasingly tough and confrontational stance toward what it characterizes as China’s “predatory” economic policies. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, set the tone in a June speech in which he accused China of an “unprecedented level of larceny” of intellectual property.
Tensions over trade in particular have worsened relations between the two world powers. Donald Trump has slapped tariffs on $250bn in Chinese products in an effort to narrow the US trade deficit with China. Those steps are also motivated by suspicions of China’s plan to transform itself into a global leader in robotics, artificial intelligence and other technology industries. China has retaliated with tariff hikes on $110bn of American products.
The tensions have extended into security issues. China has strongly criticized US arms sales to Taiwan, and the US has renewed its criticism of Beijing’s island-building in the disputed South China Sea. Trump has opened up a new line of criticism in recent weeks, accusing China of meddling in US elections but without presenting substantive evidence of interference.
In a tweet on Thursday, Trump said he had spoken with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. Trump said the two talked about many topics, but mostly about trade. He said US-China discussions on trade are “moving along nicely” with a meeting being scheduled at the G20 summit in Argentina, which begins late this month.