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If China seems to generate more economic spies than anywhere else, the obvious question is why? And why do so many “amateurs” get caught?

The French intelligence services have admitted to being involved in intelligence operations to support French business interests. However, French economic espionage never seems to make headlines. It’s not as though economic espionage is easy to uncover and to prosecute, especially in democracies with high burdens of proof like the United States. These two questions suggest something about China that encourages untrained amateurs to pursue criminal entrepreneurialism, and Chinese researchers to tap foreign sources of knowledge by any means necessary.

The National Counterintelligence Executive’s (NCIX) answer to these questions is to hold the Chinese government responsible. Perhaps it’s an offshoot of the “grains of sand” view of Chinese intelligence – a view that posits a vast network of collectors with Beijing at the center sweeping up technology. Or perhaps it’s based on the assumption that the Chinese state owns the economy, making economic espionage Beijing’s prerogative.

But while the Chinese state may be at the heart of the economy, the market reforms of the last thirty years have reduced Beijing’s control over the day-to-day company matters and created business interest groups that pressure the government – national and local – to support their more narrow and parochial interests. The overriding concern with GDP growth has also given companies more freedom to operate.