Acts of espionage and theft by China’s government pose the “greatest long-term threat” to the future of the US, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has said.

Speaking to the Hudson Institute in Washington, Christopher Wray described a multi-pronged disruption campaign.

He said China had begun targeting Chinese nationals living abroad, coercing their return, and was working to compromise US coronavirus research.

“The stakes could not be higher,” Mr Wray was quoted as saying by BBC.

In a nearly hour-long speech on Tuesday, the FBI Director outlined a stark picture of Chinese interference, a far-reaching campaign of economic espionage, data and monetary theft and illegal political activities, using bribery and blackmail to influence US policy.

“We’ve now reached a point where the FBI is now opening a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours,” Mr Wray said. “Of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China.”

The FBI director said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had spearheaded a programme called “Fox Hunt”, geared at Chinese nationals living abroad seen as threats to the Chinese government.

“We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations,” he said. “The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking.”

He continued: “When it couldn’t locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the target’s family here in the United States. The message they said to pass on? The target had two options: return to China promptly, or commit suicide.”

“China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary,” he added.