Two men have been charged with hijacking an American company’s secret recipe for a chemical used to whiten Oreo cookies, among other things, and selling it to a Chinese government-controlled rival. Okay, not exactly Edward Snowden, but this marks a growing trend of North America-China espionage, the last incident involving a Canadian naval engineer who attempted to sell Canadian shipbuilding secrets to the PRC.
They were accused of stealing Delaware-based DuPont Co’s method for making titanium oxide, a chemical that fetches $17bn a year in sales worldwide and is used to whiten everything from cars to the middle of Oreo cookies. Each defendant could face sentences of 15 years or more in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
A court document showed that China buys more titanium oxide from the West than it makes domestically. So, US prosecutors said, Chinese communist leaders had decreed that duplicating – or obtaining – DuPont’s manufacturing method was a national economic and scientific imperative.
DuPont’s patented manufacturing method, while still dangerous, dirty and complicated, is nonetheless still cleaner and quicker than the outdated production method employed by Chinese factories. DuPont controls 20% of the global market.
Prosecutors said DuPont was unwilling to sell its method to China, so it was stolen and sent to a company called Pangang Group Co Ltd, according to testimony during the diplomatically dicey proceedings. The jury heard six weeks of testimony.
This doesn’t exactly do wonders for China’s reputation for pirating everything from DVDs to the idea to climb China’s tallest skyscraper.