Tuesday, May 28, 2013

China's Cyber Threat to U.S. National Security

Adam Zyglis for The Buffalo News

With the North Korean premier Kim Jong-un's belligerent rhetoric and push toward nuclearization in recent weeks, one would think that American and Chinese interests are converging now more than ever. For the United States, policymakers just want the pathetic probes for legitimacy to end. And for the rising Asian superpower, threats to its regional stability and supremacy must be mitigated. In some ways, the North Korean debacle reflects how the two nations must cooperate on a number of levels in order to safeguard each other's interests. But although military relations between the U.S. and China have thawed in recent years, tensions are now mounting in the face of various security issues, most notably the Chinese military's cyber espionage campaign against American companies, government offices and defense contractors. 

In a confidential Dept. of Defense report obtained by The Washington Post, our worst fears have been confirmed surrounding suspicions that the Chinese government has been complicit with its military's cyber espionage activities against the U.S., the majority of which target our defense infrastructure. Defense experts note that the wealth of information that has been stolen from missile defense systems, defense contractors and subcontractors, and other American companies gives the Chinese a 25-year-head-start on their own military capabilities. The theft of this critical information enables the beholder a blueprint of virtually all of our defense operations through the Department of Defense. And while White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has called for closer military cooperation between the two powers, the growing threat of Chinese cyber espionage puts this cooperation at considerable risk, and will at least will produce a pretentious relationship with a veneer of cooperation and an undercurrent of distrust and resentment.

The recent Dept. of Defense report comes at a time when the Chinese government has actually become more transparent about reporting on natural disasters and public health epidemics, unlike during the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s. This should not, though, be mistaken as a move toward greater overall transparency. The Chinese government still faces considerable criticism for its political elites' secretive grip on power and unwillingness to acquiesce in a Security Council resolution that would put international forces on the ground in Syria. Whatever lies behind their domestic scandals and international posture, the alleged cyber espionage is, in my opinion, the single largest threat to our national security. While increased economic cooperation and Ping-Pong Diplomacy 2.0 might help the United States and China seriously discuss the military and economic implications of data theft of this caliber, relations will likely continue to escalate to a point of no return, where government leaders openly accuse each other of serious threats to their national security and demand reparations. For the United States, this report comes as a test of its relationship to its Chinese counterpart: how much are we willing to tolerate or condemn before serious action is taken? So far it seems that the red line has not been crossed.

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