Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ceding the Moral High Ground on Cyber-espionage

As the American president met with the Chinese premier this week, cyber-attacks and -security were at the top of the agenda (see here). It will not have been lost on the Chinese premier that the same US president urging China to stop its cyber-espionage against the US government and American private enterprises has, at the same time, approved a massive spying campaign against his own citizens (subject to what he assures us are "adequate safeguards"). The Chinese premier will also have noted  that the American government has been drawing up its plans for offensive cyber-attacks against other countries (see here).

Under these circumstances, if you were the Chinese premier, how would you respond to the American president's exhortations to stop your own cyber-espionage program? Three answers spring to mind (all of which amount, in essence, to the same thing): (1) deny that any such program exists, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding; (2) assure the American president that you will play more nicely in the future, but keep your fingers crossed behind your back so that your promise doesn't really bind; or (3) point out to the president the hypocracy of his demands, and tell him that you'll reform China's behavior when he stops spying on his own citizens and curtails development of US cyber-weaponry.

What might Obama's responses be to any of these answers? General references to the "rule of law" and "adequate safeguards," including review by a secret court? Such responses are not bloody likely to carry much weight with the Chinese.

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