“Intelligence programs serve a specific national security mission, and that does not include providing a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. economic interests,” – Jay Carney, US Press Secretary, May 19, 2014
The United States has charged five Chinese army officers with cyber theft. People’s Liberation Army officers, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Gu Chunhui, Huang Zhenyu, and Wang Dong are all suspected of information theft from large American businesses.
It’s easy to scrutinize the Chinese’ cyber theft, but to fully understand the gravity of the situation we must put it in perspective. Understanding this story is impossible without fully understanding the political history of the two countries.
One of the most pivotal steps in easing tension between China and America was when President Nixon visited the PRC in 1972. This came after National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing to meet Premier Zhou. The result of these meetings allowed for a peaceful end to the Taiwan problem and established a diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and China. President Carter granted China full diplomatic recognition on January 1, 1979, agreeing to the One-China policy.
The United States temporarily froze relations with China in the spring of 1989 due to the killing of hundreds of protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square by Chinese troops on June 3, 1989. But relations thawed as economic interests in the emerging market beat out fundamental ideological differences, essentially putting the US in the same situation it was in during WWII and its alliance with the Soviet Union.
In May of 1999, U.S. relations with China took a turn for the worse with the Belgrade Embassy Bombings. NATO’s campaign against Serbian forces occupying Kosovo led to the accidental bombings of China’s embassy in Belgrade leading Chinese protesters to attack U.S. property and tensing diplomatic relations once again.
In October of 2000, President Clinton signed the U.S. – China Relations Act of 2000. Due to this act, China became America’s second largest trade partner. But despite the economic prosperity, the Belgrade Embassy Bombings were not the last time violence occurred between the U.S. and China. In April 2001, an American reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese fighter. In response, the U.S. plane made an emergency landing in Chinese territory. The collision killed the Chinese pilot and twenty-four American crewmen were detained. President Bush immediately expressed regret over the Chinese pilot’s death and emergency landing. The crewmen were released only after a twelve-day standoff.
China became the largest holder of U.S. debt in September of 2008, which increased concern over economic imbalances between the two countries. And in 2010, China became the second-largest global economy. Recently, The United States has taken steps to strengthen the relationship with China. During Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s time in office, she called for more economic, diplomatic, and strategic relations with China, echoing the desires of American administrations for the past century.
But despite the surface efforts to strengthen relations, China still remains a stumbling block in international efforts such as resolving the Syrian conflict. Assad’s ally, Russia, has often forced the hand of China to vote in line to create a standoff between America and the East, most recently rearing its head in the veto votes to keep the Syrian conflict from hearing justice in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court.
The economic and political antagonistic interdependencies of the last 50 years create a political atmosphere of constant sabotage and espionage but superficial reconciliation, calling back to US-Soviet relations of the 1980’s.
If the recent accusations are true, what exactly was stolen? Allegedly, the officers hacked into thousands of emails of several American businesses and stole information that would give Chinese businesses an edge over their American counterparts.
Sun Kailiang was accused of gaining access to Westinghouse Electric Company’s computers and stealing designs of pipes to build nuclear power plants without having to do actual research. The hacking of Westinghouse began in 2010 and continued for following years. The officer stole information on a negotiation that the company was going offer the Chinese. German-based AG solar was also hacked and information about their proprietary plans and information about solar panels which took AG years to develop. The accusations of theft go on and on. There are even reports that Kailiang installed malware on U.S. Steel worker’s computers to acquire intel on U.S. Steel’s litigation plans, deepening the cyber cold war that began back with the hacking of the Siberian pipeline in 1982.
Experts say this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re one of the fortune 1000 companies, odds are you’re being hacked. This is less hatred between nations and more of plain and simple bottom-line economics. Tensions are already high between China and the United States and these alleged hackings aren’t helping. China calling the U.S. hypocritical is justified; the U.S. was in hot water recently for spying on Chancellor Merkel. I’m not saying that China spying on American businesses is okay or justified, but America isn’t exactly one to throw stones. This story reveals how fragile our relationships are with our “allies”. What these Chinese officers exposed is just how savage capitalism can be and how relationships between countries are rarely what the press secretary says on TV.