What to do about China’s cyber theft: the politics of shaming

In what Reuters described as an “unusual step,” Canada singled out “Chinese hackers for attacking a key computer network and lodged a protest with Beijing.”

Officials said “a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” had recently broken into the National Research Council. The council, the government’s leading research body, works with major companies such as aircraft and train maker Bombardier Inc.


Canada has reported hacking incidents before, but this was the first time it had singled out China.

The timing of the report is key, as Canada’s foreign minister John Baird was in Beijing, where he had a “full and frank exchange of views” with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi on cyber attacks.

This is similar to the US strategy of public shaming of Chinese officials over claims that hackers in China are systematically – but not neatly – plundering as much US intellectual property as they can.

It would be interesting to learn what advice Sinologists in Canada and the US are giving their governments about this issue today. The notion that public shaming has become a tool in the area of East-West cyber relations shouldn’t surprise. Look at the efforts of China and South Korea to shame Japan over the comfort women issue and other matters related to Japan’s imperial past. 


What to expect from Xi Jinping

Don’t expect any mellowing around territorial disputes. Xi Jinping, in order to keep a firm grip on the military, must strike a nationalist tone. The Economist concludes that China, which relegates foreign affairs to the lower rung of importance, has put in place a number of voices in its foreign policy apparatus that won’t likely mark a departure in China’s tone from the past year on foreign issues. 

Yang Jiechi, who “has given the Americans tongue-lashings in the past was made senior adviser to Xi on foreign affairs. 

Mr Yang “is described as a “as a ‘highly polished’ diplomat who was well regarded in Washington during his service as China’s ambassador a decade ago. [But} Mr Yang’s harsher tone in the past three years has matched that of higher-ups, and is in line with the ‘sharper and more nationalistic approach’ of Mr Xi…”

Mr Yang’s successor as foreign minister is Wang Yi, an Asia specialist who was China’s ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007. In Tokyo Mr Wang helped to heal relations after earlier bad blood. But today Sino-Japanese relations are much worse, with China challenging Japanese control of the Senkaku islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) in the East China Sea. To date, Mr Xi has shown no sign of wanting to wind down the confrontation.

Also, Xi himself is “certainly fond of nationalist rhetoric,” The Economist says.

On March 17th, at the end of the 13-day annual session of the “National People’s Congress”, he repeated some favourite catchphrases. The country had to “strive to achieve the Chinese dream of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation”. The army issued a circular to troops promising to provide “robust support” for this endeavour. That will not reassure neighbours who worry about China’s growing assertiveness in disputed regional waters, and who turn to America for help.

Click here for the Economist article.