Commentary Magazine


Topic: Liberation Army

Deterring Chinese Adventurism

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has been visiting China at a time when it is beginning to flex its military muscles in ways that should alarm its neighbors and their protector — us. While Gates was meeting with President Hu Jintao, the People’s Liberation Army was testing its J-20 Stealth fighter, a clear challenge to American power in the western Pacific. To make matters worse, American officials got the distinct impression that President Hu had not been aware of the test beforehand.

That raises questions about how firmly civilians are actually in control of the armed forces — not normally a problem in a Communist state, which is designed to have parallel lines of authority (party and state, military and secret police) precisely to ensure that the oligarchs at the top are in control of everything that happens. It is no secret that the Chinese armed forces are full of ultra-jingoistic officers who make hair-curling threats about going to war against the United States. If they are not firmly under the sway of the central party bosses, that is a worrisome development. Even if they are under control, however, we can hardly relax, for the senior party leadership has indicated that it is bent on pursuing a nationalistic agenda, with Chinese triumphalism replacing Marxism-Leninism as their ruling theology.

That is all the more reason why we need to ensure that our own military is strong enough to deter Chinese adventurism — something that further defense cuts in Washington will endanger.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has been visiting China at a time when it is beginning to flex its military muscles in ways that should alarm its neighbors and their protector — us. While Gates was meeting with President Hu Jintao, the People’s Liberation Army was testing its J-20 Stealth fighter, a clear challenge to American power in the western Pacific. To make matters worse, American officials got the distinct impression that President Hu had not been aware of the test beforehand.

That raises questions about how firmly civilians are actually in control of the armed forces — not normally a problem in a Communist state, which is designed to have parallel lines of authority (party and state, military and secret police) precisely to ensure that the oligarchs at the top are in control of everything that happens. It is no secret that the Chinese armed forces are full of ultra-jingoistic officers who make hair-curling threats about going to war against the United States. If they are not firmly under the sway of the central party bosses, that is a worrisome development. Even if they are under control, however, we can hardly relax, for the senior party leadership has indicated that it is bent on pursuing a nationalistic agenda, with Chinese triumphalism replacing Marxism-Leninism as their ruling theology.

That is all the more reason why we need to ensure that our own military is strong enough to deter Chinese adventurism — something that further defense cuts in Washington will endanger.

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Buck Up, Mr. President

COMMENTARY contributor and former UN ambassador John Bolton wants Obama to be more like Google. He writes:

Google’s decision to stop censoring searches on its China-based servers, rerouting search requests instead to its uncensored Hong Kong facilities, is historic. The company has shown itself unwilling simply to be on the receiving end of whatever Beijing dishes out. …

Google’s decision should also tell the U.S. government something about how to advocate its interests with China. The Google controversy coincided with cyber attacks against over 200 American companies, believed by U.S. authorities to have been launched by the People’s Liberation Army. China’s unchallenged behavior shows why we should not be optimistic that romancing Beijing will produce crippling sanctions against Iran’s nuclear weapons program any time soon. Instead, the Obama administration should emulate Google’s approach in official dealings, and support U.S. businesses in situations similar to Google so they do not have to act alone.

The Obama administration’s obsequiousness has certainly not paid off to date. China’s ongoing human rights atrocities, its bellicosity toward U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and its refusal to get on board with Iran sanctions suggest that the Obama approach is, in fact, having the opposite reaction. The lower we bow, the more aggressive the Chinese become. And meanwhile, the Russians, the Syrians, and the Iranians look on, observing a tongue-tied American president (except when it comes to voicing “anger” toward Israel) desperate to ingratiate himself with despotic regimes and unwilling to risk their ire. Dictators become more emboldened, America loses its moral standing, and the world becomes less free and less safe. This — along with the crushing debt he is piling up — will be the Obama legacy.

COMMENTARY contributor and former UN ambassador John Bolton wants Obama to be more like Google. He writes:

Google’s decision to stop censoring searches on its China-based servers, rerouting search requests instead to its uncensored Hong Kong facilities, is historic. The company has shown itself unwilling simply to be on the receiving end of whatever Beijing dishes out. …

Google’s decision should also tell the U.S. government something about how to advocate its interests with China. The Google controversy coincided with cyber attacks against over 200 American companies, believed by U.S. authorities to have been launched by the People’s Liberation Army. China’s unchallenged behavior shows why we should not be optimistic that romancing Beijing will produce crippling sanctions against Iran’s nuclear weapons program any time soon. Instead, the Obama administration should emulate Google’s approach in official dealings, and support U.S. businesses in situations similar to Google so they do not have to act alone.

The Obama administration’s obsequiousness has certainly not paid off to date. China’s ongoing human rights atrocities, its bellicosity toward U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and its refusal to get on board with Iran sanctions suggest that the Obama approach is, in fact, having the opposite reaction. The lower we bow, the more aggressive the Chinese become. And meanwhile, the Russians, the Syrians, and the Iranians look on, observing a tongue-tied American president (except when it comes to voicing “anger” toward Israel) desperate to ingratiate himself with despotic regimes and unwilling to risk their ire. Dictators become more emboldened, America loses its moral standing, and the world becomes less free and less safe. This — along with the crushing debt he is piling up — will be the Obama legacy.

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A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

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China Turns Our Lights Out

Chinese hackers caused two power blackouts in the United States in the last half decade, according to the cover story in tomorrow’s National Journal. American intelligence sources confirm that the People’s Liberation Army was responsible for intrusions in 2003 that likely caused North America’s largest blackout, which affected three states, parts of Canada, and 50 million people. More than a hundred generating stations were shut down. To this day the Chinese activity that precipitated the cascading failure is not fully understood.

Then, this February, three million customers were hit by a blackout that appears to have been inadvertently caused by the People’s Liberation Army as it mapped the network of Florida Power & Light. “I suspect, as the system went down, the PLA hacker said something like, ‘Oops, my bad,’ in Chinese,” said an unnamed information-security expert quoted in the story.

As they say, the Chinese are at war with us every day over the phone lines. Washington is squeamish about publicly naming China as the source of hostile attacks, so we almost never push back.

Whatever happened to the don’t-tread-on-me spirit in this country? We ignored al Qaeda’s attacks until September 11. Now we’re adopting the same passive approach to Chinese assaults on our critical infrastructure. Last August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while in Beijing, publicly told off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Chinese hacking. Why can’t Robert Gates muster the courage to say anything in front of the microphones when he travels to the Chinese capital? Beijing has rewarded our secretary of defense for his discretion by hacking into the computer network serving his office last June.

We need a better China policy. So here’s a proposal. The next time the Chinese cause a blackout in this country, let’s take down all their grids. The communists in Beijing will be angry, but I suspect they’ll get the message.

Chinese hackers caused two power blackouts in the United States in the last half decade, according to the cover story in tomorrow’s National Journal. American intelligence sources confirm that the People’s Liberation Army was responsible for intrusions in 2003 that likely caused North America’s largest blackout, which affected three states, parts of Canada, and 50 million people. More than a hundred generating stations were shut down. To this day the Chinese activity that precipitated the cascading failure is not fully understood.

Then, this February, three million customers were hit by a blackout that appears to have been inadvertently caused by the People’s Liberation Army as it mapped the network of Florida Power & Light. “I suspect, as the system went down, the PLA hacker said something like, ‘Oops, my bad,’ in Chinese,” said an unnamed information-security expert quoted in the story.

As they say, the Chinese are at war with us every day over the phone lines. Washington is squeamish about publicly naming China as the source of hostile attacks, so we almost never push back.

Whatever happened to the don’t-tread-on-me spirit in this country? We ignored al Qaeda’s attacks until September 11. Now we’re adopting the same passive approach to Chinese assaults on our critical infrastructure. Last August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while in Beijing, publicly told off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Chinese hacking. Why can’t Robert Gates muster the courage to say anything in front of the microphones when he travels to the Chinese capital? Beijing has rewarded our secretary of defense for his discretion by hacking into the computer network serving his office last June.

We need a better China policy. So here’s a proposal. The next time the Chinese cause a blackout in this country, let’s take down all their grids. The communists in Beijing will be angry, but I suspect they’ll get the message.

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China and India, Hand-in-Hand

Today, the two giants of Asia start their first joint military exercises. Code-named “Hand-in-Hand, 2007,” the event brings Chinese and Indian forces together for five days in China’s Yunnan province. The two countries are, in the words of a statement from the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing, promoting “the strategic partnership for peace and prosperity.” Furthermore, they are enhancing their capabilities against “three evil forces:” separatists, extremists, and terrorists.

Is that so? What China and India are really doing is keeping an eye on each other. Neither government will say so, but each of them wants to find out how much progress the other has made since their border war more than four decades ago. “In 1962, India was defeated mainly because of the low standard of the soldiers,” says a Shanghai-based military expert speaking anonymously to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Since then, the Russians and the Japanese have helped train the Indians, and the Chinese want to find out how much improvement has occurred. And the Indians for their part are curious about how much two decades of modernization have improved the People’s Liberation Army.

This decade, these two nations have slowly begun to cooperate in the military sphere, especially since conducting joint naval search-and-rescue exercises in 2003. The Indians say they will hold another joint maneuver with China next year in India.

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Today, the two giants of Asia start their first joint military exercises. Code-named “Hand-in-Hand, 2007,” the event brings Chinese and Indian forces together for five days in China’s Yunnan province. The two countries are, in the words of a statement from the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing, promoting “the strategic partnership for peace and prosperity.” Furthermore, they are enhancing their capabilities against “three evil forces:” separatists, extremists, and terrorists.

Is that so? What China and India are really doing is keeping an eye on each other. Neither government will say so, but each of them wants to find out how much progress the other has made since their border war more than four decades ago. “In 1962, India was defeated mainly because of the low standard of the soldiers,” says a Shanghai-based military expert speaking anonymously to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Since then, the Russians and the Japanese have helped train the Indians, and the Chinese want to find out how much improvement has occurred. And the Indians for their part are curious about how much two decades of modernization have improved the People’s Liberation Army.

This decade, these two nations have slowly begun to cooperate in the military sphere, especially since conducting joint naval search-and-rescue exercises in 2003. The Indians say they will hold another joint maneuver with China next year in India.

But the United States, Japan, and the other Asian democracies need not worry too much about an alliance between Beijing and New Delhi. China and India, simply stated, are natural rivals. Yes, there may be increased military contacts, but the ongoing exercises just showcase the problem between them: China has the world’s largest armed forces (2.5 million men and women in uniform) and India the third (1.13 million), but each side is contributing just about a hundred soldiers to the Yunnan drill.

Although the Indians do not want to become part of any “anti-China” coalition, the fact is that they do not have much choice. China, after all, armed India’s mortal enemy, Pakistan, with nuclear weapons, China competes with India for investment capital flowing to the developing world, and China is the other Asian land power. The two countries still maintain claims to the same lands, and this year the Chinese have escalated the tension by unilaterally demolishing Indian military fortifications, intruding onto territory India claims, and escalating rhetoric. So where can India turn for help?

America is the perfect offshore balancer for New Delhi, especially because the two countries share a language, ideals, and even a little common heritage. When Americans finally realize that neither China nor Pakistan can become a reliable ally in the foreseeable future, they will see that the world’s largest democracy and its most powerful one should work together for a stable international system.

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Missile Defense, Asian-Style

Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

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Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

Russia, which possesses almost 800 missiles, can defeat any defense Japan and the United States can mount. Yet that has not stopped the Kremlin from complaining. “We are opposed to the construction of a missile defense system aimed at securing military superiority,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the eve of his trip to Japan. China, with many fewer ballistic missiles, has long voiced its opposition to joint U.S.-Japan cooperation.

The Chinese have two concerns. First, the People’s Liberation Army actually thinks about launching missiles against the American homeland. Its last public threat to incinerate the United States was made as late as July 2005. Second, Beijing worries that Washington may adapt defenses developed in Japan to protect Taiwan. This June the Taiwanese expressed their desire to join the American-Japanese system.

At present, the United States is merely upgrading Taiwan’s Patriot missiles. Yet yesterday’s successful test should persuade Washington to ask the Taiwanese to participate in the joint American-Japanese efforts. Taipei acknowledges that such an extension of missile defense would be “politically sensitive.” Yet why should we be concerned about offending autocrats who think nothing of threatening to destroy American cities?

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Unrest in the Chinese Army

Western observers tend to assume that the Chinese Army and the Communist Party are as close as the proverbial “lips and teeth.” However, a number of troubling, but largely unremarked upon, reports in the Chinese media raises nagging doubts about just how close the two really are. This is an important question for the United States, as the People’s Liberation Army is the rock upon which the structure of Party dictatorship rests.

China Central Television (CCTV) recently reported that, according to a September 21 article in the authoritative newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military has been exhorted to:

“[A]dvance the Party’s construction in the army, persist in the Party’s absolute leadership of the army, uphold the Party’s flag as the army’s flag, and take the Party’s will as the army’s will.”

Hortatory articles like this one have appeared regularly for years in the Chinese media. Last summer, however, the tone of such standard articles began to change, becoming more insistent, even panicky.

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Western observers tend to assume that the Chinese Army and the Communist Party are as close as the proverbial “lips and teeth.” However, a number of troubling, but largely unremarked upon, reports in the Chinese media raises nagging doubts about just how close the two really are. This is an important question for the United States, as the People’s Liberation Army is the rock upon which the structure of Party dictatorship rests.

China Central Television (CCTV) recently reported that, according to a September 21 article in the authoritative newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military has been exhorted to:

“[A]dvance the Party’s construction in the army, persist in the Party’s absolute leadership of the army, uphold the Party’s flag as the army’s flag, and take the Party’s will as the army’s will.”

Hortatory articles like this one have appeared regularly for years in the Chinese media. Last summer, however, the tone of such standard articles began to change, becoming more insistent, even panicky.

I noticed the shift and began to puzzle over it. Others have noticed it, too; James Mulvenon, for instance, has written an important essay called “They Protest Too Much” about demonstrations by demobilized soldiers. The new tone was clear in a lecture by President Hu Jintao on June 25, during which he told an audience at the Central Party School that they must guard against “arrogance and rashness,” and remain “ideologically sober-headed.” What, I asked myself, could have prompted such strong language?

Then on July 15 and July 16, according to Hong Kong reports, Hu spelled out for more than 80 top commanders at the Central Military Commission in Beijing the eight problems that most concerned him. These were a daunting list:

1. Decreasing sense of military responsibility.
2. Disconnect and lag in building the political ideology, organization, and in the PLA’s self-development.
3. Weakened fundamental belief in the Party’s absolute leadership over the military.
4. Decreased ability to resist westernization, segregation, and corruption.
5. Changed organizational and disciplinary principles.
6. Worsening relationships among various military rankings and internal departments.
7. Questionable ability to win a war in the modern era.
8. Increasing and sometimes severe conflicts between the military and local government and residents in certain regions.

Reading this list, I finally grasped the point. The Chinese army has serious problems with morale, competence, and political loyalty. That is what Hu is telling the army, and us.

Some Chinese military officers are undoubtedly corrupt, but others likely despise the present political leadership. They probably discuss among themselves what is to be done to save their country from the looming disaster of corruption, pollution, and unrest. The West tends toward an optimistic view of China’s future, with reform and stability both assured, and no danger of breakdown in civil-military relations. President Hu seems not to share our optimism. Perhaps it is time for us to reconsider.

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No Way, Huawei

On Friday, 3Com announced that it had agreed to be acquired. Bain Capital, the Boston-based private-equity firm, will take about 80 percent of the struggling computer networking pioneer. China’s Huawei Technologies is slated to purchase the remaining portion.

The deal faces a national security review in Washington by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. CIFUS should turn down the proposed transaction on general principles. Huawei, which Newsweek once described as “a little too obsessed with acquiring advanced technology,” should not be allowed to make any sizable acquisition of sensitive American assets.

3Com’s technology, if shared with Huawei, would help China eavesdrop on U.S. domestic conversations. Moreover, the American company’s encryption technology would make China’s networks less vulnerable to foreign surveillance. Just last year 3Com ended its joint venture with Huawei. Now the Chinese company wants the 3Com technology that it does not already possess.

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On Friday, 3Com announced that it had agreed to be acquired. Bain Capital, the Boston-based private-equity firm, will take about 80 percent of the struggling computer networking pioneer. China’s Huawei Technologies is slated to purchase the remaining portion.

The deal faces a national security review in Washington by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. CIFUS should turn down the proposed transaction on general principles. Huawei, which Newsweek once described as “a little too obsessed with acquiring advanced technology,” should not be allowed to make any sizable acquisition of sensitive American assets.

3Com’s technology, if shared with Huawei, would help China eavesdrop on U.S. domestic conversations. Moreover, the American company’s encryption technology would make China’s networks less vulnerable to foreign surveillance. Just last year 3Com ended its joint venture with Huawei. Now the Chinese company wants the 3Com technology that it does not already possess.

What’s wrong with Huawei? The official story says that Ren Zhengfei formed the company in 1988. It’s more likely that Ren, a former Chinese military engineer, is acting as a front for the People’s Liberation Army. It’s impossible to ascertain the truth, but this we know: in less than two decades Huawei has grown from scratch to an enterprise with 62,000 employees in 41 countries and sales of over $8.7 billion. And how did it do that? Huawei has benefited from substantial help from the Chinese government, especially R&D funding, tax incentives, and export assistance. The company says it is not owned or controlled by the Chinese military, but its denials have failed to convince outsiders. Huawei is one of the least transparent businesses in China.

In 2005, Britain blocked Huawei from taking over Marconi. Until we know much more about this Chinese company, we should stop it from purchasing any portion of 3Com. We did not allow the Soviet Union to buy critical American assets. The same principle should apply now.

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What is Behind the Chinese Cyber-Offensive?

Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.

In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.

Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.

That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.

Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.

The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.

What is behind all these episodes?

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Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.

In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.

Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.

That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.

Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.

The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.

What is behind all these episodes?

According to “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006,” a U.S. Department of Defense publication, China has been “experimenting with strategy, doctrine, and tactics for information warfare.” The report notes that during a conflict, “information-warfare units could support active PLA forces by conducting ‘hacker attacks’ and network intrusions, or other forms of ‘cyber’ warfare, on an adversary’s military and commercial computer systems, while helping to defend Chinese networks.”

That the Chinese would be developing such a capability is unsurprising. We are developing similar capabilities, as are all advanced military powers. Computer networks are essential to warfare. and the ability to disrupt the enemy’s network while protecting one’s own has become an equally essential task.

Intelligence gathering via illicit entry into computer networks has become an important tool in the espionage toolkit. There are lots of secrets residing in both government and private-sector computers, and it should hardly come as a surprise that the Chinese have been developing techniques for extracting such secrets by clandestine means.

What does come as a surprise are all the recent hacking incidents. We are not at war with China. Neither is Germany or Britain or, arguably, Taiwan. If the hacking is part of a coherent strategy, it would seem to be self-defeating, prompting victim countries to develop countermeasures that make their own systems far more difficult to penetrate in the kind of crisis when the Chinese would really want to turn on their computer-sleuthing and disruption capabilities.

One possibility is that the attacks are being carried out not at governmental direction but by private hackers in China or elsewhere, who are routing their activities through Chinese networks. That is what the Chinese government maintains with some supporting evidence.

Another possibility is that the PLA is operating on its own, without the blessings of Beijing, to hone its capabilities and to test Western responses. Again, there is some evidence to support this theory.

Yet another possibility is that there is less to these incidents than meets the eye. They may in fact reflect the ineptitude of certain ill-prepared sectors of Western governments.

It is useful to keep in mind that major brokerage houses, banks, investment banks, and government central banks use computer networks to move billions of dollars around the world every day. These would be a ripe target for hackers, both inside adversary governments and in the criminal sector. But we seldom hear of any successful attacks against these institutions. Why not? Probably because, given what is at stake, they all put huge resources in computer security. Surely, if they were paying sufficient attention, governments could erect the same kinds of barriers to unauthorized entry.

Finally, there is the possibility that the Chinese government, acting on the basis of motives that are not apparent to us, has opted for short-term at the expense of long-term gain. Governments can do irrational things, and Communist governments, accountable to no one but themselves, doubly so.

In the end, the ongoing Chinese cyber-warfare remains a puzzle. Before we massively retaliate with a cyber-war of our own, it would be useful to get a firm fix on what we are up against.

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The PLA at 80

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

Read Less




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