Defense Plan Amid Cyberwar Fears

Beijing publishes a white paper laying out its military vision.

2011.03.31
People's Liberation Army honor guardsmen march during a ceremony in Beijing, May 17, 2010.
AFP

Beijing moved on Thursday to reassure its neighbors that it will not pursue regional military expansionism, amid warnings of its growing cyber-warfare capability.

"China will never seek hegemony, nor will it adopt the approach of military expansion now or in the future, no matter how its economy develops," said a new white paper issued by Beijing's defense ministry on Thursday.

The report observed that in the Asia-Pacific region, “relevant major powers are increasing their strategic investment.”

“The United States is reinforcing its regional military alliances, and increasing its involvement in regional security affairs,” it said.

The white paper came as a new strategic report in the United States warned policymakers to think carefully about China's cyber-warfare might.

"Most likely, cyber conflict will be an 'always on' engagement, even if international policy is enacted to forbid it," according to a recent article in the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Studies Quarterly.

"The only certainty in cyber conflict is that conflict there will not unfold in the ways we may expect," wrote former U.S. diplomat and IT policy fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute, Christopher Bronk.

Bronk's article outlined a 2020 projected scenario in which China is able to disable much of Singapore's power grid and infiltrate key U.S. military communications and control systems using nanocode.

It imagined People's Liberation Army (PLA) cyber-warfare efforts as "disruptive activities, highly visible to allied political and military leaders."

Clandestine

The U.S. had previously warned about the Chinese military's use of civilian computer experts in clandestine cyber attacks aimed at American companies and government agencies.

Bronk warned of Chinese use of "sophisticated botnets, in which legions of zombie computers and mobile devices were employed to 'gang up' on unclassified government and private systems and bring them to a screeching halt in crushing denial-of-service attacks."

In 2009, a Canadian research group said a China-based ring known as "GhostNet" stole information from thousands of hard drives worldwide.

The Information Warfare Monitor said attackers broke into government and private organizations in 103 countries, including the computers of the Dalai Lama and his exiled Tibetan government.

Earlier this year, a top Internet security company said hackers working from China had been targeting Western energy companies, stealing sensitive information.

U.S.-based McAfee said in a report that the computers of oil and gas companies in the U.S., Greece, Taiwan, and Kazakhstan were targeted in “coordinated, covert and targeted” attacks which began in November 2009.

It said the attacks involved social engineering, "spear-phishing" for sensitive information, and exploitation of Microsoft Windows operating systems vulnerabilities.

E-mail service

Google Inc. closed its China-based search engine last year amid complaints of cyber attacks from China against its e-mail service.

The Chinese government has denied any involvement in hacker activities, saying it is opposed to them.

In Beijing on Thursday, official media quoted top defense officials as saying that China is committed to nonproliferation and to international humanitarian and peace-keeping roles.

"China will, as always, link the fundamental interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of people in the world and link its security with the world peace," spokesman Geng Yansheng told reporters.

"China will actively participate in international security cooperation and work for global and regional peace and stability," Geng said.

China's parliament approved a 13 percent hike in military spending this year to 601 billion yuan (U.S. $91.5 billion) in 2011, compared with an increase of 7.5 percent last year.

But spending on domestic security has outstripped the PLA's budget for the first time, as China launches a nationwide crackdown on political dissent.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.

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