China cybertheft naming and shaming: does it work?

by Chris Zappone

One thing has caught my eye in the blowback from China following the US Justice Department indictments of the five military officers.

From China Daily: “The US allegations are believed to be the biggest challenge to bilateral relations since a summit between the two nations’ presidents last summer in California.”

If this is true, it shows the public naming and shaming of China economic espionage had some effect within China’s leadership. The bigger question is whether China’s leaders can actually stop the systematic PLA hacking of foreign trade secrets.

The consensus is that Xi Jinping is in firm control of the PLA and so he must give some tacit support for the cyber theft. But I think it’s just as possible his control of the PLA doesn’t extend as far down as Unit 61398. Those guys working out of that office in Shanghai may not be on the same page of the CMC.

The PLA, the NYTimes notes, “has often run its own foreign policy.” 

So even if the order comes down to stop the cyber theft – maybe it’s considered a temporary edict before the systematic cybertheft resumes.

I entertain this idea because, from the outside, China likes to present itself as a monolith – but it’s not. There are competing factions all the way to the top of China’s political structure.

During the historical Cold War, the parochial US couldn’t help but see a monolith of Communist contagion when it looked out at the world.

China is at pains to present itself as unified to the world. But it would be a mistake, I think, to assume that the contradictions of China’s behavior (peaceful rise/provocative actions in the South China Sea) are part of a cohesive strategy, as much as they are an effort to satisfy competing elements within the country.

That would explain to me how the actions (of aggressive hacking, belligerence toward neighbors at sea) don’t even faintly relate to the ideals of a peaceful rise uttered at the top level.