Google is partnering with China, where the state-owned companies have a "direct pipeline" with the military, but the Internet search engine giant has shown a lack of willingness to work with the US Department of Defence, top Pentagon officials have told American lawmakers.
Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford, chairman joint chiefs of staff, said this during a Congressional hearing as lawmakers expressed concern over increasing Chinese coerciveness with American companies.
"Correct," Shanahan said when Senator Josh Hawley said Google is doing business in China in a way that benefits US's Chinese competitors.
"The interesting thing — and this is why China is — this is such an important issue for our country. The fusion of commercial business with military is significant. USD 5 trillion of their economy is state-owned enterprises," he said.
"So, the technology that is developed in the civil world transfers to the military world. It's a direct pipeline. Not only is there a transfer, there's also systemic theft of US technology that facilitates even faster development of emerging technology," the acting defence secretary said.
Shanahan clarified that Google hasn't refused to work with the Department of Defence. "But there is a lack of willingness to support DOD programme," he said. Gen Dunford agreed.
"The work that Google is doing in China is indirectly benefiting the Chinese military, and I've been very public on this issue, as well," he said.
"In fact, the way I described it to our industry partners is, look, we're the good guys — and the values that we represent, and the system that we represent is the one that will allow and has allowed you to thrive. And that's the way I've characterized it," Gen Dunford said.
"We watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing that there is that indirect benefit. Frankly, maybe not a full characterisation of the way it really is. It's more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military,” he said.
In his opening statement, Shanahan said China’s defence spending approaches that of the United States when one takes into account purchasing power and the portion of US budget going to military pay and benefits.
“That, coupled with China's organised approach to steal foreign technology, has allowed China to modernize its missile, space, and cyber capabilities, as well as project power far beyond its borders," he said.
“I think we've been ignoring the (China) problem too long,” Shanahan said in response to a question.
The California-based Internet giant has long sought to expand in China, home of a "Great Firewall". It previously said it will keep looking for opportunities to invest in China.
But it's not clear if that would mean a return of Google Search to China after its exit over eight years ago following a showdown with the Chinese government over censorship.
The comments from top Pentagon officials on Thursday came amid a trade war simmering between the US and China.
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said he is not in a rush to enter into a trade deal with China, the negotiations for which has been undergoing since December last year.
"I think things are going along very well. We'll just see what the date is. I'm in no rush. I want the deal to be right, much more importantly. Somebody said I'm in a rush. I'm not in a rush at all," Trump told reporters at the White House.
Media reports said Chinese President Xi Jinping has postponed his trip to the US president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida later this month.