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Don't Let Airbus Export American Secrets

(AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Nobody wants a war with China. The People’s Republic has more than a billion citizens. It has nuclear weapons. A war with the Chinese would kill millions and potentially destroy the international economy. We would all rather swing China in a positive direction by engaging with it instead of fighting it.

There are current efforts in place to contain China’s influence in the region by strengthening relations with allies. The Associated Press reports that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday, “the Pentagon intends to work better with private industry to develop high-tech systems and to strengthen relations with allies in the Indo-Pacific region in order to maintain a competitive edge over China.”

In addition to a containment strategy, it makes sense not to contract with companies that also contract with the Chinese defense establishment, to prevent the sharing of American defense secrets.

China is a growing power, asserting itself all around Asia. It threatens Taiwan, which manufactures plenty of crucial high-tech equipment that Americans rely on. It seems to be developing weapons that can threaten American carriers, Air Force jets, and American warriors. So while we don’t want to fight China, we must be aware that it is a potential enemy, and we cannot allow it to sneak up on us.

To protect the U.S., we need American defense manufacturing to be strong. We must protect our military secrets, and only allow the enemy (or potential enemy) to see those secrets if we need to deploy them on the battlefield. We certainly shouldn’t allow the Chinese to read blueprints of American defense systems. 

This may all seem obvious. No country has ever allowed another to see its weapons until they were deployed. Every military breakthrough since the catapult has come as a surprise to the people it was first deployed against. But there is a point here, for as China is growing more powerful, it wants a peak behind the curtain at what the United States is developing. And as China looks around for a way in, it may already have unlocked a door through which it can enter.

The U.S. continues to give military contracts to the European company Airbus. You may have read about Airbus last year; that was when the Justice Department won a suit against it for doing business illegally. With China.

“Between approximately 2013 and 2015, Airbus engaged a business partner in China and knowingly and willfully conspired to make payments to the business partner that were intended to be used as bribes to government officials in China in connection with the approval of certain agreements in China associated with the purchase and sale of Airbus aircraft to state-owned and state-controlled airlines in China,” a Justice Department news release last year said. “In order to conceal the payments and to conceal its engagement of the business partner in China, Airbus did not pay the business partner directly but instead made payments to a bank account in Hong Kong in the name of a company controlled by another business partner.” 

Airbus agreed to pay a $3.9 billion fine in connection with the case. It’s the largest such fine ever paid.

So, a defense contractor that just won a $120 million contract from the Pentagon in June was caught paying bribes so it can do business in China, a country where the government steals intellectual property as often as possible. That is a serious problem. 

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U.S. law regulates the way our defense equipment and services may be imported and exported. It also prohibits exporting them or selling them to other countries without proper licensing. As the Justice Department wrote, “According to admissions and court documents, between December 2011 and December 2016, Airbus filed numerous applications for the export of defense articles and defense services to foreign armed forces.” 

Yet, Airbus “engaged in a criminal conspiracy to knowingly and willfully violate” the law “by failing to provide DDTC with accurate information related to commissions paid by Airbus to third-party brokers who were hired to solicit, promote or otherwise secure the sale of defense articles and defense services to foreign armed forces.”

Airbus was willing to violate American law to deal with China. Why wouldn’t it be willing to leak American military secrets to the Chinese in the future?

There should be more than a financial penalty in this case. Airbus has shown it cannot be trusted with military secrets. It shouldn’t be able to bid on U.S. military contracts for several years, while it proves it is a friend and not a friend of a foe. 

The U.S. has plenty of domestic contractors ready to provide the services the military needs. We can’t trust Airbus, and shouldn’t allow it to export our secrets to China.