Time to end the cyber-spying blame game
Responding to a report in a German magazine that Chinese cyber spies stole sensitive data on defense programs, such as theUnited States’ F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, China’s ForeignMinistry spokesman Hong Lei said onMonday that such allegations are “totally groundless and unproven”.
Such baseless accusations are not newfor China, which itself has been at the receiving end of cyberattacks. Chinese cyber-spying might have increased the cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s and delayed its production, said AviationWeek, aNewYork-based information and services provider specializing in aerospace and intelligence, in 2012.
These allegations are being leveled at China to “prove” that it “stole” data on theUS fighter jet to develop its own Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31.
But they seem rather contradictory in the light of the explanation given byMichaelHayden, former director of Central Intelligence Agency, to defend theUS after formerNational Security Agency operative Edward Snowden exposedWashington’s surveillance program in 2013. TheNSA surveillance program, Hayden said, was designed to collect intelligence to safeguard state security, while China’s “cyber-hacking” served as a tool for Beijing to launch unfair economic competitions.
Assuming that China did collect information from cyberspace to improve its fighter jets, how is it not fair? Didn’t it help the country to safeguard its national security? At the most, it only shows that China’s intelligence organ did a good job, for that is exactly what theUS wants the NSA to do for its own national security.
Allegations of cyber espionage, especially by theWest, have always been aimed at slandering China— that it has made technological breakthroughs only by plagiarizingWestern innovations. This perception remains unchanged sinceWashington issued the Cox Report in 1999 accusing China of using spies to steal nuclear weapons’ technology from theUS.
Most governments have intelligence departments whose fundamental function is to collect data from other states and protect their countries from being spied on. According toUS national security strategy in the late 1990s, major threats to the country’s security intelligence included even Israel, perhaps the closestUS ally. Moreover, countries such as the US should indulge in some
introspection before accusing others of stealing sensitive data, because their allegations over the past quarter century, to some extent, show they are rather reluctant to see China’s independent yet powerful rise. They need to implement structural reforms, instead of blaming other countries’ economic growth, to revive their economies.
China, on its part, has to act more confidently when confronted with accusations of launching cyberattacks; it has to defend its national interests with more nerve. In an article titled “Why we spy on our allies” in TheWall Street Journal in 2000, R. James Woolsey, another former CIA director, addressed the European companies which theUS had spied on saying, “we have spied on you because you bribe”. No country should adopt such double standards.
As for Beijing, it needs to more vigorously defend its unimpeachable rights and put an end to the futile “finger-pointing” game that it is not at all interested in playing. The author is an associate professor in the Department of International Politics at Fudan University in Shanghai.