It turns out the world’s addiction to cheap Chinese goods, which in part drives China’s huge contribution to global climate change, will not doom the world after all.
Instead, it will be the country’s penchant for hacking, accelerated cyber warpath and the theft of intellectual property that could have consequences for the global economy, according to a report issued on Monday by a Washington, D.C.-based cybersecurity think tank.
According to researchers at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT), China’s 13th five-year plan reads as a modern-day sequel to the 2001 espionage movie "Spy Game," a CIA-Chinese film starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. But instead of bombings and kidnappings, ICIT’s report paints a picture far more dramatic. China’s “criminal culture of theft” includes “state sponsored smash and grab hacking” and “techno-pilfering,” ICIT says. The group also cites China's reliance on organized crime syndicates such as the Triad in order to bolster its standing on the global stage and become less reliant on Western technology and innovation.
This is quite the contrast from what the Chinese government has publicly disclosed. According to China’s official news agency, this five-year plan reads similarly to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and includes initiatives such as agriculture reform, land rights and next-generation transportation.
ICIT’s stark assessment of the Chinese government’s agenda also conflicts with a study issued by the cyber security firm Fire Eye. That study alleges that cyber attacks coming from the world’s most populous country have fallen dramatically, with fewer breaches reported by U.S. technology firms, government agencies and military officers. Almost a year after U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping agreed to a crackdown on cyber espionage, Fire Eye says such breaches have collapsed to only a handful a month — a fraction of the 65 to 75 such attacks that happened monthly only three years ago. Furthermore, Fire Eye suggests that the decreased frequency of such events started a year before the 2015 U.S.-China summit.
To back up its claim, ICIT offers a long list of Chinese cyber warfare initiatives. They include the PLA 61398, long accused of hacking the systems of U.S. companies and government agencies. Deep Panda, Hurricane Panda, Gothic Panda, Goblin Panda and a host of other eponymous directives also make the roster. A complex spy structure, from networks embedded in consulates to Chinese student and scholar associations, join front companies and Chinese community associations in what ICIT insists is a broad, covert attack on Western industry.
The solution, says ICIT, is more sharing of threats between governments, increased public awareness and not cutting-edge, but bleeding-edge technology in order to counter these threats for the rest of this decade.
Formidable, indeed, one would think while perusing the study and list. Yet at the same time, ICIT also mentions China’s other problems, which it dismisses as it showcases China’s supposed nefarious agenda. ICIT suggests we overlook the human rights violations, poor manufacturing quality (Apple may dispute that), “fifty-cent trolling army propaganda,” and spats between the government and military. And that's to say nothing of the U.S. military advantage despite China’s investment in military training and technology.
While China has made impressive strides the past generation, this is a country that is lodged between Ecuador and Thailand on the United Nations’ Human Development Index -- and ranks equally to its northern and far poorer neighbor, Mongolia. Businesses worried about attacks from China may instead want to focus on their own operations in that country, as the nation is still a basket case when it comes to human rights.
So based on this report, is China a challenge or even threat to the U.S. and its allies? Of course. Should this report be part of Donald Trump’s playbook? That is up to debate. Nevertheless, the ICIT report and its hyperbole reads as more of a very good sales document pitching its research services, and those of the cyber security industry at large, rather than as a responsible directive on how to conduct America’s economic, military and diplomatic policy.
Image credit: Philip Jägenstedt/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.