An observation about the myths of Chinese hackers

by Chris Zappone

A view about the nature of China’s hacking, in response to this enlightening piece by CSIS’s James Lewis on what exactly China is doing online versus the US.

He makes the point that the US is not in a Cold War-like struggle with China – but I disagree. The notion is at the margins now. I think it will move more towards the center of American thinking in time. And that’s while borders remain open and trade continues to flow. 

But Lewis makes this point about China, which echoes the notion that China as a country “not abiding by the statecraft” anymore through its use of cyber espionage and theft.

Says Lewis:

“The Internet, poorly secured and poorly governed, has been a tremendous boon for spying. Every major power has taken advantage of this, but there are unwritten rules that govern espionage, and China’s behavior is out of bounds. Where Beijing crosses the line is in economic espionage: stealing secrets from foreign companies to help its own. China also outmatches all other countries in the immense scale of its spying effort, and the United States is far from the only nation to have suffered.

Emphasis mine. But what Lewis is really saying can be extended to much of China’s economy. In fact, China exhibits this behavior offline too. So the concern is not that its army steals secrets to turn over to private industry. At a certain level there is a blur between China’s army and its private industry, as there is in the Chinese government and industry through state owned enterprises. So there should be no surprise this is happening online, or at a massive scale. The question is: how is the US – the birthplace of the Internet, and the incubator of many of the values around it – going to ruggedize both the internet and the concepts of fairplay in business that are so crucial to the American system thriving in this century. In this way, in my opinion, the Cold War is on. And no, it doesn’t mean massing tank battalions on the border of East and West Germany. The struggle may be more subtle to view, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a full blown effort, consuming lots of time and imagination of people on both sides – the Chinese with their hard power in the seas around, as well as efforts at softpower through the world, particularly with developing countries. For the US, this new Cold War will be an act of reinvention, to become a country that can more deftly navigate the tremendous influence and pressure of China, and other BRICs nations when they can agree. To be sure, this may not mean more military spending in the US, but less. But we’ll see…