Normative Narratives


Conflict Watch: China, Friend or Foe?

I have written in the past about how China is not our enemy but our ally. In many ways this is true, but in some ways the two countries are ideologically opposed. While the rift between the U.S. and China is not as significant as the rift between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R was, China still has the potential to pose a significant threat to our national security. New technology, and the power for good that comes with it, also carries an intrinsic risk. As sensitive data becomes digitized, it can become a target for “cyber-terrorism”.

Before diving into the article, it is important to highlight the important ways the China is NOT our enemy. When a story like this comes out, people who dislike China will use it as evidence to vindicate their views that China is our enemy in whatever other sense they are trying to prove (or to argue for whatever protectionist policy they are advocating). The following are some of the ways in which China is our ALLY:

Economically: There are probably no two nations who are as interdependent economically then the U.S. and China. The largest and second largest economies in the world respectively, each nation has been able to grow and will continue to grow only if the two nations continue to work together. Since growth is essential for raising the standard of living, for financing important government programs (both social and military), and for keeping unemployment low, this relationship must be maintained and strengthened.

Trade disputes are to be worked out in the W.T.O.. Currency disputes (it is often argued that China manipulates the value of it’s currency make it’s exports cheaper) are unfounded. While it is no secret that the Chinese currency is not valued on the open market, this is the decision of the Chinese government. America, or any other nation, would not allow another country to determine it’s monetary policy (unless it chose to fix it’s currency’s value or “peg it” to the dollar, or joined a monetary union like the EU). An undervalued Chinese Yuan hurts Chinese citizen’s (they do not have as much purchasing power as they otherwise would); it is ultimately up to the Chinese people to put pressure on the Chinese government  to allow the Yuan to be fully “convertible”.

Global Security: China, along with Russia, finds itself as the modern champion of “national sovereignty”. Taken to the extreme, this position has unfortunately led to U.N.S.C. inaction against the Assad regime as China and Russia continue to veto international intervention in the Syrian Civil War. Many non-democratic countries align themselves with China, and sometimes these are countries we would consider “bad apples” here in America. Countries such as North Korea and Iran have or are pursuing the ability to build nuclear arms that could pose significant threats to global security. Also, human rights violations in less developed countries attract terrorist activities. China’s ability to ensure global security, and to act responsibly (unlike in the Syrian situation)  will go a long way in cementing China as a world power. It  would also allow the U.S. to focus more on domestic issues (instead of continuing to fund a disproportionately large  military budget to fight the worlds wars, which we can no longer afford to do). China must be our partner, not our enemy, in ensuring global security in a nuclear age.

Environmental Issues: The U.S. and China, being the two  largest economies in the world, are naturally the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. Issues such as capping emissions levels, and cap-and-trade / carbon tax policies, will require global coordination to ensure corporations cannot avoid stricter laws by simply moving operations to another country. Multilateral environmental talks have stalled in recent years; the developing world (lead by China) affirms that the developed world should pay for the majority of “green funds” to finance global environmental initiatives, as they are historically responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (you have to admit, this is a strong argument). The developed world (lead by the U.S.) argues that everyone has to pay their fair share. While the specifics are slowly worked out (as is always the case in multilateral negotiations), it will take coordination between the U.S. and China for any meaningful policy to take shape.

Back to the issue at hand–cyber security. A recent NYT article highlights that ” A growing body of digital forensic evidence — confirmed by American intelligence officials who say they have tapped into the activity of the army unit for years — leaves little doubt that an overwhelming percentage of the attacks on American corporations, organizations and government agencies originate in and around the white tower.”

This is disturbing new, if the Chinese military is indeed behind the majority of cyber-attacks on sensitive U.S. data, it could strain the already complicated relationship between the U.S. and China. For the reasons discussed above, it is essential for the global good for China and the U.S. to be allies, not enemies; global economic growth, security, and environmental sustainability depend on it. Hopefully the two countries are able to work this issue out with minimal damage to our important yet delicate relationship. Below are some key excerpts from the article, the whole thing can be found here:

“An unusually detailed 60-page study, to be released Tuesday by Mandiant, an American computer security firm, tracks for the first time individual members of the most sophisticated of the Chinese hacking groups…Mandiant discovered that two sets of I.P. addresses used in the attacks were registered in the same neighborhood as Unit 61398’s building[a Chinese military building].

It’s where more than 90 percent of the attacks we followed come from,’ said Mr. Mandia.”

“’There are huge diplomatic sensitivities here,’ said one intelligence official, with frustration in his voice.

But Obama administration officials say they are planning to tell China’s new leaders in coming weeks that the volume and sophistication of the attacks have become so intense that they threaten the fundamental relationship between Washington and Beijing.”

“The United States finds itself in something of an asymmetrical digital war with China. ‘In the cold war, we were focused every day on the nuclear command centers around Moscow,’ one senior defense official said recently. ‘Today, it’s fair to say that we worry as much about the computer servers in Shanghai.'”

“What most worries American investigators is that the latest set of attacks believed coming from Unit 61398 focus not just on stealing information, but obtaining the ability to manipulate American critical infrastructure: the power grids and other utilities.”

“Mr. Obama alluded to this concern in the State of the Union speech, without mentioning China or any other nation. ‘We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets,’ he said. ‘Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air-traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing.”

Mr. Obama faces a vexing choice: In a sprawling, vital relationship with China, is it worth a major confrontation between the world’s largest and second largest economy over computer hacking?

A few years ago, administration officials say, the theft of intellectual property was an annoyance, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars of revenue. But clearly something has changed. The mounting evidence of state sponsorship, the increasing boldness of Unit 61398, and the growing threat to American infrastructure are leading officials to conclude that a far stronger response is necessary.

‘Right now there is no incentive for the Chinese to stop doing this,’ said Mr. Rogers, the House intelligence chairman. ‘If we don’t create a high price, it’s only going to keep accelerating.'”

Mr. Rogers is correct, the U.S. has to make it clear that these actions are unacceptable, otherwise a dangerous precedent would be set. Whether the Chinese government is behind these cyber-attacks, or they are simply taking place under the government’s watch, it is up the the Chinese government to make sure these attacks are kept to a minimum. This story is likely to evolve as more information becomes available and as high ranking officials from the U.S. and China talk. I will do my best to keep the Normative Narratives community up to date on this important issue.

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