Why China will not stop its cyberespionage and cyberwar efforts


From Greg Austin, International Herald Tribune:  The Obama administration asserts that China, using cyberprobes of various kinds, is occupying certain positions inside the information networks of some critical U.S. infrastructure so that it can interfere with it if a military confrontation over Taiwan became imminent.

To planners in China, such activity would be seen as no different from the sort of contingency planning and cyberoperations the United States undertakes toward Chinese military and infrastructure targets. Chinese military analysts and leaders have been studying the United States’ use of cyberattacks against critical infrastructure ever since unconfirmed reports surfaced of U.S. attacks in 1999 against Serbia’s electricity supply and telephone system.

China’s view is also colored by the leadership’s heavy dependence for political stability on the intelligence services and armed forces, the main perpetrators of the espionage.

Yet there is disbelief in China that the United States would expect it to make a principled rejection of military cyberespionage. The Chinese would argue that the United States is doing it, and so should China. There is commitment in China to the idea that in terms of military preparedness in the Information Age, a country has to be able to use cyberassets, if it can, to disable adversary infrastructure on which a military campaign might depend. Last November, the Chinese leadership announced it would hasten the development of information technology for military purposes.

Military advisers in China have an easy case to make. Why should China abandon its nonlethal, contingency operations related to possible cyberattacks on critical infrastructure where the United States itself now is vigorously pursuing offensive cyberoptions?

The United States, they will say, is the principal architect of a direct and unlawful sabotage attack on the critical infrastructure of Iran in peacetime through Stuxnet. Internal assessments in China paint its cyberwar capability (as opposed to its information siphoning) relative to that of the United States as basic versus advanced. This assessment is shared by some former senior U.S. military officials.

Chinese military planners believe that they would only launch a cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure in the event of an imminent large scale military clash with the United States over Taiwan. While Americans cannot have equal confidence, and their concern is legitimate, it is the Chinese perception that shapes China’s responses.

The American case is not helped by its blurring of the two distinct complaints: I.P.R. theft and national security threats.

Greg Austin is director of policy innovation at the EastWest Institute.  (photo: Lang Lang/Reuters)

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