On the eve of China's Aug. 1 “Army Day” holiday, the U.S. media revealed that the Obama administration has decided to retaliate against the supposed Chinese “theft” of over 20 million Americans' personal information from U.S. databases. President Obama has already requested that his staff come up with a set of proposals and explore the feasibility of placing economic sanctions on China.
For now, U.S. officials have yet to make any official statements in this regard, and we are still uncertain whether such reports are valid or if they are merely speculation on the part of the U.S. media. As the saying goes, however, where there's smoke there's fire, and the United States is given to inventing such topics and later putting them to purpose in furthering one or another of its very real plans. As an example, the United States has long been spinning tales about “Chinese hackers”; the results of which have always been to significantly expand its cyber command.
One can always find a way to blame others, and the United States is already determined to pin these offenses on China, despite that in each case it lacks real evidence. Each time, China patiently defends itself against these unfounded accusations. The fact is, however, that Americans are entirely deaf to these protestations. What we must do is gain a clear understanding of these Americans' true objectives before initiating an effective response.
Indeed, their bluster has been a reminder that we must take better precautions in the field of cybersecurity. Cyberspace is highly interconnected and complex, and it is both of paramount importance and enormously difficult to effectively safeguard China's national interests in cyberspace. The pressure from Americans over these issues in cybersecurity should, on the contrary, “force” China to bolster its strength in that area. Looking back upon the origins of China's cyberspace strategy, it was both a proactive adaptation in response to the challenges of this day and age and a necessary result of answering those challenges. Edward Snowden's revelations about PRISM became the single strongest motivator for China in establishing itself as an Internet power. Presented with an opportunity for “digital nation-building,” a China that is evolving from power to great power in the online landscape will not shiver in the face of ill winds blowing from the United States.
The new Chinese National Security Law explicitly protects the nation's sovereignty, security, and developmental interests within cyberspace. The cybersecurity law being discussed openly now will eventually aid in creating an effective mechanism for strengthening national defense in cybersecurity applications. The result of this so-called U.S. “retaliation” will only be to hasten the creation of a powerful Chinese cyber division, one which will develop to become a pillar of strength, protecting peace and development within the global cyberspace.
To realize this goal, China must take action immediately. Using the new National Security Law and the clause within the cybersecurity law to “maintain national sovereignty and resist breaches of the Internet” as a legal basis, it should quicken the pace of establishing a cyber corps and extricate itself from the predicament of being able only to defend the “camp gates” instead of the “gates of the nation” in cyberspace. In establishing a force for the Internet, China should seek to combine military and civilian resources. In the same manner as the successful U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, it should leverage the historic opportunity presented by making military-civilian collaboration part of national strategy to increase the degree of investment in cybersecurity firms and have the cybersecurity industry take the lead in supporting the development of the nation's cyber defense. Additionally, it should set up its own “virtual firing range.” Soldiers cannot excel without training. With the success of the United States' National Cyber Range as a guide, China should create a virtual environment for offense and defense within cyberspace to provide an online training ground for developing a future Chinese cyber command.
Collectively building a peaceful, secure, open, and collaborative cyberspace while establishing a multilateral, democratic and transparent global system of governance for the Internet is the fundamental logic underlying China's management of cyberspace. In the past, I have often brought up the three principles of “expanding collective interests, establishing equal checks and balances, and maintaining mutual security,” and I hope that certain other nations can free themselves of the Cold War mentality and together pave the way toward cooperation and mutual benefit on the Internet.
The author is the director of the Cyberspace Strategy Research Center at the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy.