Chinese see military dependence on computers as weakness

Chinese see military dependence on computers as weakness
Chinese see military dependence on computers as weakness 

By David Lague
August 29, 2007

BEIJING: Diplomatic tension this week over reported Chinese computer 
attacks on German government networks comes as security experts warn 
that China is expanding its capacity to wage cyberwar as part of its 
rapid military buildup.

U.S. and other foreign military analysts say that Chinese defense 
planners have identified the heavy dependence on computers of most 
modern military forces as a potential weakness that could be exploited 
in a conflict.

They cite articles and reports in Chinese military journals and 
magazines that suggest attacks aimed at extracting intelligence from 
enemy computer networks or disrupting communication and signals 
processing could deliver a decisive military advantage.

"It is part of China's concept of unlimited war," said Philip Yang, an 
expert on the Chinese military and professor of international relations 
at the National Taiwan University.

"The idea of unlimited war means employing all possible means including 
nontraditional or nonconventional means in the aim of winning the war."

While sharp increases in annual defense outlays over much of the past 
two decades have allowed China to increase the firepower of its 
conventional and nuclear forces, it has also improved the People's 
Liberation Army's capacity to exploit information technology, experts 

"Chinese capabilities in this area have evolved from defending PRC 
networks from attack to offensive operations against adversary 
networks," Richard Lawless, deputy under secretary of defense for Asian 
and Pacific affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee in June.

As part of its response to the threat of computer attack, the Pentagon 
last year created a new cyberspace command to coordinate offensive and 
defensive operations.

In a June report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security 
Review Commission said that China's top military priority was preventing 
Taiwan from declaring independence and deterring or delaying the arrival 
of any intervening forces from the United States or even Japan in the 
event of conflict.

Chinese defense planners also view cyber warfare as a means of 
undermining the technological edge of American forces, the report said.

The report also cited testimony from General James Cartwright, commander 
of the U.S. Strategic Command, that China was actively mounting cyber 
reconnaissance of official and private American computer networks in an 
effort to collect a wide range of important intelligence.

"General Cartwright testified that this information is akin to that 
which in times past had to be gathered by human intelligence over a much 
longer period of time," the report said.

Cartwright, who will next month become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff, also warned that the disruption and chaos arising from a 
cyberattack could be as psychologically damaging as a weapon of mass 
destruction, the commission report said.

Taiwan government agencies regularly complain of attack from mainland 

And, senior Taiwan government officials acknowledge that cyber warfare 
could threaten the self governing island's security in the event of a 
conflict with the mainland.

Some military experts believe the People's Liberation Army could unleash 
a concerted offensive against Taiwan's computer and communications 
network aimed at undermining the island's defenses and morale before a 
conventional attack or blockade.

"Cyberattack would probably be quite useful in terms of economic and 
psychological impact," Yang said.

Some analysts argue that Taiwan's advanced computing and information 
technology industry would allow the island's military to resist 
cyberattack more readily than countering China's mounting conventional 

Cyber warfare is one of the few areas of conflict where Taiwan could be 
confident of maintaining an edge over the mainland, senior Taiwan 
government officials say.

Tension over the suspected hacking, first reported Sunday in the German 
news magazine Der Spiegel, dominated the three-day visit to China by 
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which ended Wednesday.

Without directly accusing the Chinese military or confirming the 
computer espionage, the German leader signaled that ties between the two 
countries were at risk after meeting Monday with Prime Minister Wen 

"We must together respect a set of game rules," Merkel said, referring 
to the reported hacking at a joint news conference with Wen. "We need 
mutual respect and we need to respect intellectual property rights."

In a sharp departure from the strident official denials that normally 
follow accusations of spying, China was almost contrite in offering to 
work with Germany to stamp out hacking.

Der Spiegel reported that German security experts in May had discovered 
spying software, so-called spyware, infecting computers in government 
departments including the Foreign Ministry, the Research and Development 
Ministry, the Economics Ministry and Merkel's office.

A group of hackers believed to be linked to the Chinese military had 
infiltrated these computers and the spyware was sending data back to 
China, the report said, citing an investigation by German intelligence 

At their joint news conference, Merkel and Wen declined to say if they 
had discussed the report.

Without denying the computer attack, Wen attempted to distance the 
Chinese government from any hacking. "When the Chinese government 
ascertained there were reports saying hackers were breaking into the 
German computer system, we in the government took it as a matter of 
grave concern," he said.

"Hackers breaking into and sabotaging computers is a problem faced by 
the entire world," he said.

"We are willing to maintain cooperation with the German government and 
take firm and effective action to prevent all hacking acts that threaten 
computer systems."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry was even more explicit.

"The Chinese government has always opposed and forbidden any criminal 
acts undermining computer systems including hacking," a Foreign Ministry 
spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web 

"We have explicit laws and regulations in this regard. Hacking is an 
international issue and China is a frequent victim."

Some military analysts say it is possible that amateur or so-called 
"patriotic hackers" in China were responsible for the attacks, but they 
also note that it would be difficult to operate a large-scale operation 
against a foreign government without alerting China's vigilant 
cyberpolice. Visit signals thaw with Japan

The Chinese defense minister kicked off a five-day visit to Japan on 
Wednesday, the first such visit in nearly a decade and a sign of thawing 
relations despite concerns in Tokyo over rising Chinese military 
spending, The Associated Press reported from Tokyo.

The Chinese defense minister, Cao Gangchuan, will inspect and address 
Japan's self-defense troops, and meet his Japanese counterpart, Masahiko 
Komura, to discuss bolstering defense cooperation, according to the 
Japanese Defense Ministry.

Cao and Komura will consider setting up a defense hot line to bolster 
communication between the countries' militaries, as well as reciprocal 
port calls by navy ships, the ministry said.

International Herald Tribune Copyright 2007

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