China is one of our state's largest trading partners. In 2021, for example, it accounted for nearly 23% of the goods exported from Washington, worth approximately $12.1 billion. At the same time, however, Washington businesses have been hurt by China through the theft of intellectual property and efforts to compromise their cybersecurity. This is particularly true for our technology companies.
Unfortunately, this is right in line with how agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — placed formally or informally throughout industries — have engaged in cyber-espionage and intellectual-property theft on a larger scale. They have also compromised our national security by targeting our military and government systems.
We also know the CCP's behavior extends to authoritarian tactics, human-rights abuses, and aggressive foreign policies, and that behavior has changed little despite years of offering economic "carrots."
My military and cyber-security background has me very concerned about the Chinese government's role in undermining the safety and security of our citizens — here in Washington and in the nation as a whole.
The pandemic and disruptions in the supply chain have proven that the United States is much too reliant on Chinese-made technology. Given the increasingly hostile and brazen disregard for international norms displayed by the People's Republic of China, the continued use of equipment produced by companies aligned with the CCP represents a serious national security threat.
To that end, I have introduced two bills to address our security needs.
Senate Bill 5754 would ban the CCP's purchase of land in our state. Starting this August, no foreign national, nonresident alien, foreign business, agent, or trustee associated with the PRC government could legally purchase public or private agricultural land in Washington.
I won't get into the weeds about how ownership of Washington farmland by CCP-associated entities could harm agriculture, among Washington's most prominent and critical industries. I'll note that the CCP engages in unfair trade practices, including dumping goods below market prices and stealing intellectual property. No good will likely come from allowing CCP allies to get a foothold in farm country, and we should head it off to protect our food supply chain and agricultural community.
The recent reports of Chinese spy balloons and drones being flown over the United States prompted my introduction of Senate Bill 5755. It would prohibit the purchase and use of Chinese-made drones by Washington's state and local governments, including police departments.
A federal law from 2019 bans the federal government from purchasing surveillance and other equipment from certain Chinese vendors due to security concerns. My bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would apply a similar standard.
Lawmakers have a responsibility to prioritize the safety and security of our citizens. These policies aim to protect our state from harmful actions for which the CCP has long been known. Some may argue that these bills are too harsh toward the Chinese people or could harm our relationship with China. That is not my goal.
We welcome and value our relationship with the Chinese people, but we cannot allow the CCP to threaten our security and way of life. As lawmakers meet in session at the state Capitol and debate several serious public-safety concerns that are obviously — and sadly — of a homegrown nature, we must also have the bandwidth to consider public-safety concerns originating outside our borders.
Toward that end, I hope we will also fully consider these proposals, which would deny a no-holds-barred adversary a further foothold within our state and influence over our people and resources.
Senator Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick, is a member of the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee and the Legislature’s leading expert on cybersecurity, ransomware and malicious violations of data privacy.