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US and China should engage in a sustained and meaningful dialogue on cyberspace issues to dispel mutual suspicion
China has been demonized as a country engaging in cyberespionage in the United States, following the release of a report by the US-based cybersecurity company Mandiant that accused the Chinese military of hacking computer systems in the United States.
US House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers said during a TV program that it was "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the Chinese government is behind the "unprecedented" cyberattacks against the United States, and he accused China of using "its military and intelligence structure to steal intellectual property from American businesses".
While it should come as no surprise that the US is accusing China of the cyberattacks, since it has been targeting China on a wide range of issues over recent years, the latest accusation has overshadowed Sino-US cooperation on cybersecurity.
The Cold War mindset that prevails in the US and the US' overestimating of China's cybercapabilities are hindering progress in cybersecurity cooperation.
On one hand, the US clings to its long-held friend-or-foe mindset despite the changing global landscape. The US is, without a shadow of a doubt, uncomfortable and even uneasy about China's rise, and it is in a dilemma over whether to engage or contain it.
The US still can't decide whether China is friend or foe, but as the world's sole superpower it simply cannot accept the possibility that it might be challenged or even overtaken by another country. In a bid to maintain US-helmed global hegemony, Washington usually aims at a certain target citing security concerns and then builds up and flexes its military muscles.
It also applies this strategy to cyberspace. It has adopted an aggressive policy toward cyberspace and is beefing up its capabilities to both defend itself from cyberattacks and launch its own cyberattacks.
US experts on cybersecurity are concerned that China is now neck and neck with the US in terms of their cyberwarfare capabilities and is a threat to the US' national security.
However, they have miscalculated China's capabilities in cyberspace with or without intention. China has expanded its influence in the cyberspace in recent years, thanks to its rising number of Internet users and the rapid expansion of the Internet, but it still lags well behind the US.
Nonetheless, the truth is China's Internet uses are still in its primary stage. The general opinion shared among Chinese Internet experts is that the country's cybercapabilities have grown fast but they are still not strong enough, especially considering that the core technologies come from the US.
In fact, China is the main victim of cyberattacks. About 73,000 overseas IP addresses controlled more than 14 million computers in China last year, according to a report released by China's primary computer security monitoring network, the National Computer Network Emergency Response Coordination Center of China.
The annual report by Chinese People's Public Security University in January shows that in 2012, nearly 700,000 Internet users in China fell victim to cyber attack on a daily basis, and public security authorities detected more than 118,000 cyber crime cases with some 216,000 suspects being caught.
Chinese experts believe China's Internet industry is big but not strong enough. Technologies in chip, processing system, router, database and underlying security are all controlled by the US.
The information revolution has been hand-in-hand with information technology innovation and its popularization, but hacking activities put cybersecurity at risk. China, as a country with the world's largest Internet population, and the US, as the world's Internet powerhouse, should be well-matched partners.
Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state, even said last year during the fourth round of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue that, "as two of the world's largest cyberactors, it is vital to the United States and China to have a sustained, meaningful dialogue on cyberspace issues and work together to develop a shared understanding of acceptable norms of behavior."
The US' concern over China's growing cybercapabilities is understandable, but it should not mistake China's own need for cybersecurity as a threat. When it comes to cybersecurity, the two countries should promote greater cooperation instead of pointing an accusatory finger at each other.
The author is deputy director of the Institute of Information and Social Development Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
(China Daily 02/27/2013 page8)