power of china | Security | East Asia
Chinese officials and media are making more efforts to publicize US cyber attacks to defend against criticism of China’s cyber behavior.
In recent years, Chinese companies have published several reports accusing US agencies of cyberattacks on Chinese infrastructure. Although China has long published data on the number of hacking attempts in the United States, detailed reports were not common. Recent reports indicate that Beijing is stepping up its narrative-building efforts by focusing on malicious US cyber activities.
Over the years, various state-affiliated institutes and organizations in the United States have exposed China’s cyber espionage activities in the United States and other countries. For example, Mandiant, a US-based cybersecurity firm, has published several reports detailing Chinese cyberattacks in the US. Additionally, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) publishes reports on “Chinese malicious cyber activity”. The United States also hosts publicly broadcast testimony sessions exploring China’s cyber activities and threats. These reports and testimonials have taken the discourse on China’s cyber activities to a global audience, raising everyone’s awareness of possible cyber threats emanating from China.
Chinese companies, security experts and executives believe that these allegations of Chinese cyberattacks are attempts to slander China. For example, the state-owned Global Times cited opinions expressed by Chinese companies and experts that these were US attempts to slander China. Similarly, an article published by the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in 2020 also called the United States “cybersecurity hypocrisy” after the 2020 Qihoo 360 report.
As a result, many Chinese experts and leaders had called on China to release similar reports exposing US cyberattacks in China. For example, just days before Pangu Lab released its report on US cyber espionage, Hu Xijin, the former editor of the Global Times, lamented on his personal WeChat blog that from time to time foreign organizations and individuals claim having been the victim of cyberattacks from China, while China has only dry numbers of US cyberattacks against China.
Another point of frustration was the Chinese government’s silence or lack of a coherent response to US allegations of Chinese state-sponsored cyberattacks. It seems to be slowly changing. In 2020, the Foreign Office had renounced the United States as a “hacker empire”. Recent ministry press briefings have highlighted reports issued by Chinese security firms, and state-sponsored propaganda machinery is also doing the same.
Additionally, the Department of Foreign Affairs is also releasing its spokesperson’s separate remarks on US cyberattacks. The ministry released separate remarks from the spokesperson highlighting the findings of the three Qihoo 360 reports, the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CNCERT) report and the Qi An Pangu Lab report., respectively. This is Beijing’s new strategy to respond to Washington.
However, China’s messages are not directed only at the United States, but at a wider global audience. Leveraging these reports, Beijing points out that US cyberattacks even threaten US allies. This was clear from Wang Wenbin’s statement on March 24, in which he pointed out: “As we can see from exposed operations such as ‘Dirtbox’, ‘PRISM’, ‘Irritant Horn’ and ‘Telescreen’, The United States does not even spare its allies and partners in its cyber surveillance and global attacks.
Additionally, the Pangu Lab report was available in Mandarin and English, listing all of the other countries the NSA allegedly penetrated. This list included targets from India, UK, Australia, Japan and many other countries, highlighting that US partners were also victims of malicious cyber activity.
As the two countries clash on a range of issues from technology to diplomacy, these narrative-building efforts are set to intensify further. So far, China’s malicious activities in cyberspace have received most of the attention. Now Beijing is trying to balance the scales.