Mu­tual trust es­sen­tial for cy­ber­se­cu­rity

China Daily (Canada) - - TORONTO -

Be­fore Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s state visit to the US, the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion hinted at im­pos­ing sanc­tions on China over the al­leged hack­ing of Amer­i­can com­pa­nies’ com­put­ers on Sept 16. US media out­lets ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity at such a cru­cial time, though.

Ru­mors about pos­si­ble US sanc­tions against Chi­nese com­pa­nies over cy­ber-se­cu­rity is­sues have been mak­ing head­lines in the US media since late July. Ac­cord­ing to some of the re­ports, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Chi­nese com­pa­nies that they be­lieve have “stolen in­for­ma­tion” from the US Of­fice of Per­son­nelMan­age­ment.

But if the US im­poses sanc­tions on China or its com­pa­nies, it would be over­re­act­ing to an imag­ined en­emy’s ac­tions and, in the process, would dam­age Sino-US ties.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, China and the US in­cluded, has been try­ing to take ac­tion against hack­ers but it faces two ma­jor prob­lems, as the US case shows. Ef­fec­tively track­ing a hacker is the first. Howto track an in­truder? If the vic­tim claims to have tracked one, would other par­ties be­lieve it? And can a gov­ern­ment be held re­spon­si­ble for all at­tacks launched from within its ter­ri­tory?

The sec­ond prob­lem is that in­ter­na­tional la­won wars al­lows a state to re­spond suit­ably to a mil­i­tary at­tack but there is no such reg­u­la­tion on cy­berspace. When Sony’s com­put­ers were hacked at the end of 2014, the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Korea, a sus­pected at­tacker, had to suf­fer the con­se­quences of a US coun­ter­at­tack: loss of In­ter­net con­nec­tion. Such a move is against in­ter­na­tional law­be­cause it is be­yond mil­i­tary ne­ces­sity.

For years, US politi­cians have been play­ing up the “China cy­ber threat the­ory”. Now and then, even US cy­ber author­i­ties ac­cuse China of “cy­ber hack­ing”.

The fact is China views the cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal revo­lu­tion as a golden op­por­tu­nity to ac­cel­er­ate the trans­for­ma­tion of its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and fa­cil­i­tate so­cial re­form. China also pays great at­ten­tion to cy­ber­se­cu­rity and is try­ing to im­prove reg­u­la­tions in this newfield.

How­ever, some Amer­i­can politi­cians al­lege China is widen­ing its cy­ber ca­pa­bil­i­ties to chal­lenge US hege­mony. Thus, when­ever an eco­nomic dis­pute arises, the US mis­takes it for Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions and vows to take re­venge. It is this sus­pi­cion that has ru­ined one co­op­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity af­ter another be­tween the two coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, at the prompt­ing of Washington in 2013, the two sides formed a co-work­ing group on cy­ber-se­cu­rity for of­fi­cial di­a­logues, but the US soon lev­eled crim­i­nal charges against five Chi­nese mil­i­tary of­fi­cers for cy­ber­at­tacks, which made any di­a­logue im­pos­si­ble.

The two coun­tries have reached a stale­mate on cy­ber­se­cu­rity is­sues, which shows the ex­tent of harm the US’ sus­pi­cion can cause to co­op­er­a­tion.

Sino-US re­la­tions are the most im­por­tant as well as the most com­pli­cated bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in this world. The dif­fer­ences and con­flicts of in­ter­ests be­tween the two sides are in­creas­ing. As Fu Ying, a for­mer se­nior diplo­mat, has said, the two coun­tries need to “avoid blam­ing or of­fend­ing each other”.

hat sug­ges­tion es­pe­cially ap­plies to cy­berspace. Be­cause of the fast de­vel­op­ment of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in­dus­tries and merger of real and vir­tual space, China and the US en­joy shared in­ter­ests as well as face con­flicts over cy­ber-se­cu­rity. And shared in­ter­ests will far out­num­ber the con­flicts only if the two sides re­solve their ex­ist­ing dif­fer­ences through ne­go­ti­a­tions, not so-called de­ter­rent ac­tions.

If China and the US can build mu­tual trust on cy­berspace is­sues, their sub­se­quent co­op­er­a­tion mea­sures will en­hance their mu­tual strate­gic un­der­stand­ing and pro­mote the healthy de­vel­op­ment of their re­la­tion­ship. US politi­cians and scholars need to think ra­tio­nally, not jump to con­clu­sions. Hope­fully, Xi’s visit to the US will help the two sides es­tab­lish mu­tual trust in this im­por­tant field.

The au­thor is a se­nior re­searcher on in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and so­cial de­vel­op­ment at the China In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions.


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