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
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
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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