The U.S. Department of Defense has raised concerns about the presence of Chinese-made cranes in US ports, including those used by the military, as a potential tool for espionage.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that US officials fear that China could use the cranes, manufactured by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries, to gather intelligence on goods being shipped in and out of the country.
Former US counterintelligence official Bill Evanina has likened the cranes to Huawei Technologies, which was banned from the US market over similar espionage concerns.
“It’s the perfect combination of legitimate business that can also masquerade as clandestine intelligence collection,” said Evanina.
While it is not clear whether there have been any actual cases of cranes being used for spying, the concerns come after the recent row between the US and China over high-altitude balloons, which the US accused China of using as a surveillance tool.
The cranes in question are made by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC). The company became a major player in the US market by offering high-quality cranes at cheaper prices than Western suppliers.
ZPMC has worked with Microsoft and other companies to offer automated systems that can analyse data in real time. However, the US Defense Intelligence Agency has reportedly said that China could potentially disrupt port traffic or gather data on military equipment being shipped.
US national security officials have raised concerns in recent years over other Chinese-made equipment, such as baggage-screening systems and electric transformers. In December 2021, US Congress ordered a study of whether foreign-made cranes in US ports pose security risks.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington has called the concerns about cranes “paranoia-driven” and accused the US of trying to obstruct trade and economic cooperation with China.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson called the claim “complete paranoia” and said that voicing such concerns is “misleading to the American public.”