As awareness grows about the Chinese government’s invasion into American lives through technology, questions are being raised as to the role of government officials in protecting us from it.
The case of Tencent and its funding of World View Enterprises, raises questions about the responsibility of not only government officials, but that of the business community in ensuring our nation’s security.
President Donald Trump said on Friday that he plans to ban the popular app, TikTok from use in the United States. TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, has been accused of data-gathering and spying on Americans for the Chinese government.
India is banning dozens more apps and reportedly reviewing hundreds of others from well-known Chinese companies, as tensions between the world’s most populous countries continue to rise.
The Indian government banned an additional 47 apps, all clones or variations of 59 other apps India blocked last month on national security grounds, an official at India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology told CNN Business on Tuesday.
Caught up in the initial ban were several prominent Chinese apps, including the wildly popular video sharing app TikTok. App clones or variants would likely include lighter versions designed for entry-level smartphones with limited memory.
Trump’s decision, say supporters, is an example of what government officials should be doing when confronted with evidence of China’s invasive actions.
Just last week, U.S. Senator Martha McSally, R-AZ, introduced legislation that would require online retailers like Amazon to disclose the origin of products made in China.
“China works every day to subvert American interests and supplant the United States as the world’s dominant power,” McSally said in a press release. “American consumers deserve to know if a product they purchase online is made in China before they buy it, particularly now as we continue to suffer from the fallout of a pandemic that Beijing unleashed on the world. My bill requires transparency from online retailers like Amazon, so that consumers are not misled about the origin of any products made in China.”
McSally’s bill stipulates that online retailers legibly state on a noticeable place on the webpage if a product or a major component of that product originated in China, or if the product was manufactured or assembled in China.
World View’s disclosure was not clear
In January 2016, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the funding for the headquarters of World View Enterprises.
As previously reported, the World View facility was to be built on land that was purchased in 2012 by the county as part of a buffer zone for Raytheon, a defense contractor which is the largest private employer in Tucson, with about 13,000 employees. Missiles were stored on the property.
Prior to approval of the deal by the Board, only Supervisor Ally Miller inquired as to the financial health of the company. She requested financial documents as part of her responsibility to perform due diligence. Miller, a former executive in the aerospace industry, is familiar with the intricacies of government defense contracts.
Miller’s requests were rebuffed and instead, County bureaucrats, claiming World View’s financial information was “proprietary” provided only a vague study commissioned by the County which made obviously baseless claims as to World View’s potential.
Miller argued at the time that taxpayer dollars could not, and should not, be used for risky or less-than viable companies. She argued that the residents of the fifth poorest metropolitan area in the country were not in a position to fund what was purportedly a multi-million-dollar enterprise while their own businesses struggled to stay afloat.
In response to Miller’s very public complaints, Supervisor Ramon Valadez asked co-founder of World View Enterprises, Jayne Poynter, to discuss World View’s impressive investors.
As seen in the video below, Poynter boasted of European and institutional investors and quickly mentioned the company’s largest investor, Tencent. Tencent is a wealthy Internet conglomerate closely associated with the Communist Chinese government. Poynter did not disclose that Tencent is a Chinese company.
What should they know?
From Captain Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, co-founder of World View, and current senatorial candidate, to members of the Pima County Economic Development staff, to the elected members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, no one raised alarms bells about Tencent.
In fairness, only now are Americans becoming aware of the Chinese threat. As a result, no one could blame civilians for not grasping the potential danger of a Tencent investment.
The fact that Kelly, a retired U.S. Navy captain, was willing to take money from a Chinese company for the purposes of creating spy equipment is disturbing on many levels. World View as recently announced that it has changed its mission to creating balloons for surveillance from the stratosphere.
The company had initially told the Country Board its mission was to take tourists into the stratosphere at a rate of $75,000 apiece. However, after it received $15 million in assets from the County it transported no tourists into space.
The fact that Assistant County Administrator/Director of Aerospace and Defense Initiatives, John Vorhees, a retired fighter pilot, who served as Chief of Exercises at Davis Monthan Air Force base failed to alert County officials on Tencent’s investment is seen as a breach of the public trust.
Private Investment with public funds
It is often said that the only thing public about too many public/private partnerships is the money that ends up in private pockets. In the case of World View and Tencent, the public may have given up more than money. They may have put at risk national security when their elected officials agreed to fund the building of World View within line eyesight of one of the nation’s premier defense contractors.