Speaking at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, DC, Dunford said US tech companies must understand that when they do business with China, there's always a chance that their know-how — particularly their artificial intelligence software — could make its way to the Chinese military.
"[Chinese companies] are automatically required to have a cell of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in that company, and that it's going to lead to that intellectual property from that company finding its way to the Chinese military," Dunford said. "There's a distinction without a difference between the CCP and the government and the Chinese military."
"This is not about me and Google; this about us looking at the second- and third-order effects of our business ventures in China [and] the impact it's going to have on US ability to maintain a competitive military advantage and all that goes with it," Dunford stressed.
He later indicated that his focus was on Google "because they have an artificial intelligence venture in China," adding if precautions were not taken, it could "enable the Chinese military to take advantage of the technology developed in the United States."
"We ought not to think it's just about business when we do business in China," he said.
Dunford's remarks come just days after he told a Senate hearing last week that Google was "indirectly benefiting the Chinese military" through its business ties with the country. The tech giant has also been criticized by US President Donald Trump, who tweeted March 16 that "Google is helping China and their military."
Such narratives have been largely rejected by Google, which has explained that its artificial intelligence work in China is focused on "education, research on natural language understanding and market algorithms, and development of globally available tools."
Furthermore, the company has stressed that it is not working with the Chinese military.
— Vivian Salama (@vmsalama) March 17, 2019
"We are not working with the Chinese military. We are working with the US government, including the Department of Defense, in many areas including cybersecurity, recruiting and healthcare," the statement reads.
The debate over Google's work in China continues months after employee protests forced the Silicon Valley company to decline to renew its Pentagon contract for Project Maven, a controversial artificial intelligence imaging program that helped analyze drone footage. Google employees at the time complained that the work being carried out by the tech giant, whose former motto was "Don't be evil," would help improve lethal targeting by the US military. (The company removed "Don't be evil" from its code of conduct in May 2018.)
It's presently unclear when or where the meeting between top US military leaders and Google executives will take place.