US 'spying' port cranes allegation is groundless, misleading: ministry
Not surprising for Washington politicians to hype 'China threat': experts
Published: Mar 06, 2023 11:41 PM
This photo taken on Jan. 31, 2023 shows a cargo ship docking at a container terminal of Ningbo Zhoushan Port in east China's Zhejiang Province. China's busiest port, the Port of Ningbo Zhoushan in the eastern province of Zhejiang, saw its cargo throughput exceed 1.25 billion tonnes in 2022, ranking first globally for a 14th consecutive year, according to the port.(Photo: Xinhua)

Photo: Xinhua

Some US officials' claims that China-made cranes operating at US ports possibly play a role as "spying tools", as reported by some foreign media, are totally "groundless", Chinese officials and experts said on Monday.

The allegations by US politicians make "every bush and tree look like an enemy, which are misleading to American people", said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Monday at regular press briefing.

The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that some US national security and Pentagon officials claimed that ship-to-shore cranes made by China-based Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co (ZPMC) contain sophisticated sensors that can register and track the provenance and destination of containers, prompting concerns that China could capture information about materiel being shipped in or out of the country to support US military operations around the world.

"Cranes can be the new Huawei," said Bill Evanina, a former top US counter-intelligence official.

But, US national security officials haven't detailed any instances of cranes being used to nefarious ends, according to the WSJ report.

It is not surprising for some US politicians to always hype the China threat theory and play up national security concerns in order to suppress Chinese companies, with the ship-to-shore crane producers as the latest target against China, experts said. 

However, such vicious allegations are groundless, and the smears would not affect the overall competitiveness of Chinese manufacturers, given their good performance and cost effectiveness, they said.

Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday that some US politicians' accusations were baseless and the impact on ZPMC would be limited and short-lived, given its products' high competitiveness in the world.

ZPMC is a leader in the global port crane industry and a well-known enterprise as a global marine engineering equipment manufacturer.

The company's products are sold to 105 countries and regions, serving more than 300 ports. ZPMC's market share of quayside container cranes has led the world for more than 20 years, according to the company's 2021 financial report. The company achieved operating revenue of 25.978 billion yuan ($3.75 billion), the report said.

The US may harm itself in the long term if it takes further action to restrict ZPMC's products, Gao said, noting that the US will find it difficult to locate a replacement with good quality and low prices, which will increase the operating cost of ports in the US, Gao said.

Though the accusations against ZPMC are "merely noise" from some US politicians, it should be noted that the US is extending similar accusations against Chinese products in other fields, said He Weiwen, an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies.

The Biden administration on Thursday added 37 companies to a trade blacklist, including units of Chinese genetics company BGI and Chinese cloud computing firm Inspur, over allegations that the units pose a "significant risk", Reuters reported.

In November 2022, the US Federal Communications Commission banned the sale of communications equipment made by Huawei and ZTE and restrict the use of some China-made video surveillance systems, citing so-called "unacceptable risk" to its national security.

"If the US tends to relate any Chinese device or product to political or military uses, this is going to be pathological or neurotic," He said.

Following the same US logic, China can take the same action against any US product such as iPhones or Tesla cars, which can also be seen as tools to collect data in China and transmit it back to the US authorities, He noted.

The US should immediately correct its wrongdoings and stop its relentless suppression of Chinese companies, said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Commerce on Friday, in response to the US' recent generalization of national security and abuse of export controls.

This is a typical act of economic bullying and market distortion, which seriously undermines the legitimate rights and interests of the companies and undermines the security and stability of global supply chains, the spokesperson said.

In spite of repeated assaults from the US, China has remained the world's manufacturing hub for years. According to the China Construction Machinery Association, the export value of China's machinery industry hit a new record of $44.30 billion in 2022, up from $34 billion in 2021.