While there were several points of apparent accord reached between the US and China during President Xi Jinping’s state visit, the issue of cybercrime will continue to be a source of tension going forward. Tension that will be unilaterally and cynically exploited by Washington for its ulterior geopolitical aim of demonising and browbeating China.
The problem partly stems from Washington being able to propagate its sly, prejudicial attitude towards China. Smiles and handshakes aside, the United States’ official mentality harbours and projects a demeaning presumption of Chinese guilt over cybercrime.
That mentality is manifest in the arrogant way that the United States government during President Xi’s visit managed to appoint itself as «judge and jury» to arbitrate on this contentious issue.
Washington’s truculent attitude is quite a feat of reality-inversion considering its own proven global NSA spying operations, as revealed by Edward Snowden; as well as its known state-sponsored hacking operations against countries, such as when it ravaged Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities back in 2010 with the Stuxnet virus. That cyberattack was personally ordered by President Barack Obama, according to the New York Times.
Washington’s imperious attitude displayed last week also stands in contrast to Beijing’s efforts to find a mutual partnership on a range of issues, and on cybercrime in particular.
The Chinese leader showed grace and stoicism during his visit to Washington, in spite of the boorish hostility expressed in the American media before and during his stay.
In a six-point plan put forward by Xi on various aspects of strategic partnership, the Chinese president generously offered mutual cooperation and understanding with the United States.
For his part, President Obama reciprocated on initiatives for closer government communication and co-operation over climate change, cultural exchange, reform of the International Monetary Fund, trade and commerce.
However, a sour note – and a big one too – was Obama’s continued implicit insistence that China is the guilty party on the singular matter of cybercrime, allegedly involving corporate theft, intellectual property violation and government espionage.
The New York Times headlined: ‘Obama and Xi Jinping Agree to Steps on Cybertheft’. Though the newspaper added: «But Mr. Obama said that he had told the Chinese president during two hours of meetings at the White House that the escalating cycle of cyberattacks against American targets‘has to stop,’ warning Mr. Xi that the United States would go after and punish perpetrators of those offenses through traditional law enforcement tools and, potentially, with sanctions».
In other words, Washington is framing the issue as a one-sided problem, ostensibly of Chinese transgression against the US.
Over the past six months, the US media have been ramping up a campaign of vilification against China with numerous, and often sensationalist, allegations of cybercrime. Citing anonymous US officials, the American media have run endless articles claiming that Chinese hackers have invaded US commercial corporations and government agencies, harming American economic performance.
One of the biggest alleged violations was widely reported to have occurred at the Office of Personnel Management in which data on up to 22 million US federal employees had been hacked. Major US media outlets claimed that China was to blame, even though no verifiable evidence has ever been produced to substantiate that.
The Washington Post reported in June: «With a series of major hacks, China builds a database on Americans». Based solely on anonymous official briefings and on opinions of private internet security firms, the Post’s article accused China of using private information about federal employees and their families as a means of recruiting spies. With this kind of xenophobic and alarmist reportage in one of America’s supposedly quality media outlets, it is little wonder that an «anti-China» outlook has been fostered among the US public.
China’s government has flatly rejected those allegations as being «unscientific and unreasonable». Beijing also rebuked Washington for conducting foreign policy on the basis of unfounded suspicion.
Obama, speaking in the White House Rose Garden with President Xi at this side, announced that the two countries had now agreed to «rules of the road» to crackdown on cybercrime.
But still there was an insidious presumption in Obama’s words when he said: «The question now is, ‘Are words followed by actions?’» The implication from the American president is that China’s commitment to combatting cybercrime is suspect, and that future alleged Chinese transgressions are to be anticipated.
Obama then added with a sinister tone: «And we will be watching carefully to make an assessment as to whether progress has been made in this area.»
That gets to the heart of the problem. Obama’s words betray an attitude in which China is not being treated as an equal partner in dealing with a mutual problem. Rather, China is being treated as a miscreant whom the Americans are unilaterally putting on notice over future alleged misdemeanours.
«Neither country’s government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors», reported the New York Times.
That clip from the Times is, at least, tantamount to acknowledging that cybercrime is liable to be committed by criminal elements on both sides.
Nevertheless, it is Washington who is presuming to be the innocent victim, and the «all-knowing» party who alone will determine if China is guilty of any future cyber-transgressions.
Given the American media’s already reprehensible conduct of a lynch-mob campaign against China over cybercrime, we can be sure that more sensationalist allegations of «Chinese hacking» will be rolled out in the future and thereby presented as incriminating «facts».
Then we can expect Obama or his White House successor to intone that China’s actions have not matched its words, and therefore American sanctions are «justified» to penalise Chinese authorities or businesses.
The unproven, and frankly unprovable, American claims against China on the matter of cybercrime therefore appear to be used as a torque on US-China relations. For all we know, the supposed Chinese hack-attacks could actually originate from American agencies for the very purpose of demonising China.
It is a convenient way for Washington to twist, discredit and demonise Beijing. In order to always keep China on the back foot, as having to defend itself from allegations of wrongdoing and untrustworthiness.
Obama’s barely veiled supercilious attitude towards China shows that his words about America «welcoming» Chinese «friendly competition» are disingenuous. On the contrary, Washington sees China rise in global power as a threat to its hegemonic ambitions of control.
The American supposed concern about cybercrime is not on the basis of a mutual or genuine resolution. Instead, it is a contrived issue aimed at exerting control over China and an attempt by Washington to impose a dominant-subordinate relationship.
Washington’s presumption of «judge and jury» on the issue is the telltale evidence of a persistent hegemonic mentality towards China. That mentality will in turn prove to be the source of other conflicts on other issues, whether over territorial disputes or alleged currency manipulation.