China-connected Tencent's tentacles extend to NASA, too

President Trump has been leading the U.S. against the Chinese theft of  American data and intellectual property.  The administration has ramped up its pressure campaign by threatening Gen Z social media platforms like TikTok, which observers fear could funnel data to China, and closing the Chinese consulate in Houston for being a source of espionage and intellectual property theft.

Now Trump has taken the unprecedented step of shutting down WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese company Tencent.  As suggested by the president's executive order, Tencent, like many other regime-connected firms, is a threat because of its apps' reported collection of large swaths of personal data.  It isn't in the best interest of the nation's security to allow the Chinese government easy access to Americans' personal and proprietary information, which often occurs more than they realize.  

To protect national security, Trump is taking a harder stance than past administrations in the hope that it quells the growing Chinese threat.  Now Congress is doubling down to help him eliminate further threats that this adversary poses to American security.   Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has introduced two new amendments to the latest NASA Authorization Act, which would require background checks of NASA's private contractors to ensure that there aren't any significant connections to China.  These amendments are needed now more than ever — especially when considering Tencent's proximity to NASA. 

Tencent owns a five-percent stake in the American electric vehicle–maker Tesla.  Founder Elon Musk has called the Chinese firm both an investor and an adviser to his company.  Beyond Tencent, Tesla has also received over a billion dollars in loans from Chinese banks and has been able to work with their government to secure deals that get him helpful incentives. 

This connection to the regime is concerning for national security because SpaceX — a frequently utilized contractor at both NASA and the Pentagon — is connected to Tesla by development and sales partnerships.  This connection opens the door for theft of classified governmental materials.  

This is far from an irrational fear.  In fact, Tesla's I.P. was compromised by the People's Republic before.  The company has opened lawsuits alleging China's theft of its autopilot technology from former employees who went to work at Chinese rivals.  Now imagine if the same happens to NASA or the Pentagon's information. 

Complicating matters is that Chinese security law requires citizens to help Chinese authorities whenever possible, including on matters relating to intelligence and the military.  The last thing we need is one company's dealings with the country inadvertently creating a national security threat.  That can happen should the Gardner amendments not pass into law. 

Yet SpaceX is reportedly lobbying against these commonsense legislative measures.  Why?  Does it know that these connections are concerning?  Does it have something to hide?  Or does it just not want the law to eventually mandate that companies divest from China because of its financial interests?

Let's be clear: divesting from China may be difficult, but it won't be nearly as costly as trade secret falling into Chinese hands.  For major companies with Chinese investments, it's likely time to pull out entirely from the Asian power or risk loss of government contracts.  To do nothing puts national security at risk, and no company's bottom line is more important than that. 

James Lowe is a two-decade radio industry veteran and now host of his own nationally syndicated radio show based in Kansas and carried on the Iheartradio App.  Find out more at

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