Is a healthy shot of hysteria over Chinese cyberspying just what’s needed?

by Chris Zappone

Few countries do hysteria as well as America. It’s in the blood. From the Salem Witchtrials to the Red Scares, it’s a talent. So it’s no surprise there is has been a shudder of hysteria in the recent reporting about Chinese hacking of US weapon secrets.

First The Washington Post reports that China has access to a cache of American military secrets. Then the Pentagon downplays the report

The truth is probably somewhere between the two reports. But to be honest, a certain amount of alarm is overdue, especially after decades of complacency about China. Obviously, something is amiss.

The free-trade Utopianists fought to liberate China with most-favored nation status. The thought at the time was that it would, for US business, open whole new vistas of profits. Free minds would follow free markets, I seem to remember hearing from a pre-9/11 America, whose cocksure business lobby was firmly in the driver’s seat of government and much of society.

A decade after China’s accession to the WTO, things haven’t worked out as planned.

Human rights have not marched forward in China – but let’s face it: US business could have lived with that outcome.

Instead, in 2013 Chinese authoritarian capitalism poses a direct challenge to Western business and government. It’s one thing for Western business to have trouble profiting from China, it’s quite another for the Chinese model to threaten the system upon which Western capitalism is based on.

When all blueprints and trade secrets stored on computers are up for grabs by Beijing to be incorporated into the goal of advancing China’s progress (or resumption of their premier place in world affairs – as they see it), it really raises the question of how the US business, but also government and people, will respond.

Looking at tech, David Gewirtz at ZDNet is on to something in his description of the cyberspying of the Chinese as consistent with ancient Chinese notions of war. Give Gewirtz credit for pulling together the strings on this:

“The skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”

Sun Tzu repeats over and over the idea that once you get to shooting, you’ve given up your advantage. His entire strategic treatise is fighting the war before you fight the war.

Sound familiar? It sure seems like China is engaging in this cyberwar strategy using the Sun Tzu playbook.

And credit to Gewirtz here, too, for wrapping in an example from Battlestar Galactica. (It’s also interesting to read Gewirtz’s views on Chinese cyberprobing in light of the Senkaku-Diaoyu naval adventurism by the China). 

At this point, the reader may say: but the US hacks, too. True. I break out the difference between the Chinese strategic model and the US model here.

Given all of the above, US business, technology, and government must quickly learn something essential. If you want to effectively counter the China model: more of the same won’t work. More of the same, privatizing losses attributed to cyber theft, hiding them from the public, while socializing the risks for the economy and by extension the society won’t work.

And remember, the goal is not for the US economic empire to be “number one,” in anyone’s books. The goal is for the US republic to not get pinned down economically, technically, politically and have to answer to a foreign power wanting to revive an ancient order.

So the world will be watching to see if Obama shames Xi Jinping at their meeting next week in California. As Michael Auslin, from the AEI writes, it’s time to end the abusive relationship between China and the US.

Washington needs to admit that it is in an abusive relationship, and then find the courage to protect itself against further mistreatment.

In an ironic manner, Auslin, who proposes some decidedly non-free-tradey solutions including sending some “viruses back” to China, questions just what kind of relationship the US is fostering with China.

China’s top military leader told U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon that Beijing wanted to create a “new type of major power relations.” Apparently that new relationship entails robbing your partner blind of his most sensitive secrets, then welcoming him for tea while mouthing nostrums about good fellowship.

There is a challenger out there, Uncle Sam, already as big and strong as you. So this is real, Uncle Sam: What are you going to do about it? A tinge of alarm is only necessary.