17 February 2019
'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit, has been accused of being involved in cyber espionage activities. Photo: Reuters
'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit, has been accused of being involved in cyber espionage activities. Photo: Reuters

China’s response to US charges of cyber espionage really lame

One week after Washington accused five Chinese military officers of hacking American companies to steal trade secrets, China responded on Monday with a weakly worded statement that said “US spying operations penetrate every corner of China.”

Phew. Is that all they’ve got?

While the US leveled specific charges against specific people for doing specific things on specific computers at specific times, all China could muster was a blanket statement so broad that it was unconvincing.

It’s like saying “everyone likes steamed buns.”

Although a lot of people like baozi (especially the tasty ones from a certain stand on Xinzhong Jie in Beijing), there is always a chance that some people do not.

Put another way, it’s also like saying that “UFOs are just a figment of your imagination.”

As wacked out residents of remote villages throughout China can attest, UFOs are very real.

Granted, China’s assertion is probably meant to be all-encompassing, but given its intended scope, it makes their case implausible.

It doesn’t help that state media has been peppering its stories all week with lame insults—like calling the US a “mincing rascal” and “high-level hooligan.” (Who writes this stuff? Kids in a schoolyard can do better.)

Monday’s report from the China Academy of Cyber Space was a little more direct, calling the US “unscrupulous.” Still, the report was not short of vagueness.

“Targets of American surveillance include the Chinese government and Chinese leaders, Chinese companies, scientific research institutes, ordinary netizens, and a large number of cell phone users,” the report said.

I may be wrong, but it sounds to me like the report is saying that the US is spying on everyone in China.

If that’s the case, the consequences of China’s retaliatory moves to nip alleged US cyber espionage in the bud are not immediately clear.

On Sunday, China ordered state-owned enterprises to stop using US consulting companies like McKinsey, Boston Consulting and Bain, accusing them of spying for Washington.

Last week, Xinhua reported that US providers of IT products and services will be “probed,” fearing IT products could have “back doors” for surveillance.

China has also banned the use of Windows 8, Microsoft’s much maligned desktop operating system, on government computers, citing security concerns. (To this, I’m sure users are delighted.)

On May 19, the day after the US put Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui on the FBI’s most wanted list, China summoned US Ambassador Max Baucus to the foreign ministry for an explanation. (There isn’t an official state department recap, but it sounds like Baucus hung tough.)

Reacting to an indictment a week ago, Beijing also suspended participation in the Sino-U.S. Cyber Working Group, a body established in April 2013 to follow up allegations of Chinese hacking attacks on US entities.

“America’s spying operations have gone far beyond the legal rationale of ‘anti-terrorism’ and have exposed the ugly face of its pursuit of self-interest in complete disregard for moral integrity,” said China’s Cyber Space report. The report also name dropped former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and “confirmed” the existence of snooping activities directed against China from the NSA’s secret surveillance program code named PRISM.

The cyber espionage hoopla now joins a grab bag of thorny US-China issues, including human rights, monetary policy, trade disputes, Taiwan and China’s growing military assertiveness, which at times strain relations between the two nations.

China has maintained all along that “the Chinese government and military, as well as relevant personnel, have never engaged and participated in the so-called cybertheft of trade secrets.”

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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