Opinion / Chen Weihua

Futile distraction from the United States of Secrets

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-24 08:03

Futile distraction from the United States of Secrets

The United States Justice Department's announcement on Monday that it had indicted five officers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army for cyber theft is a clumsy move.

The indictment came just days after Fang Fenghui, chief of the General Staff of PLA, wrapped up a five-day visit at the invitation of his US counterpart, General Martin Dempsey, to improve bilateral military-to-military relations. It is also just a little more than a month before the PLA Navy will participate for the first time in the Rim of the Pacific naval exercises.

In July, the sixth session of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the highest-level annual platform between the two governments, is due to take place in Beijing, and it is expected to cover a wide range of issues from economy to security.

But the US move will have undermined such important talks. It's not a surprise that China responded immediately by canceling the joint cyber security working group meeting since the US shows no sincerity in pursuing a solution through dialogue.

The US knows only too well that its action was bound to provoke a response from China. And such tit-for-tat actions will only escalate. Yet when China announces its own indictment of five people responsible for the reckless global surveillance activities of the US National Security Agency, it will draw applause in countries around the world.

Many Chinese and American journalists attending this week's US State Department briefings could not figure out why the US would make such an unwise decision at a moment when China and the US are cooperating more and when Russian President Vladimir Putin was visiting China. The US clearly does not want China and Russia to get too close.

For the Chinese, the timing is embarrassing because President Xi Jinping was hosting the 24-member Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia attended by many heads of state. Should China also pick a special day to announce its indictment?

If the US was trying to irritate China and cause trouble in the bilateral relationship, it has achieved its goal.

In fact, the timing is not good for the US either as it came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the heroic revelations made by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

On May 13 and May 20, the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, aired a two-part documentary: United States of Secrets. It detailed how the massive and secretive surveillance programs have been introduced by the US government since Sept 11, 2001, and have become part of daily life in a national security state.

Literally Americans and people all over the world have to redefine the word "privacy" now given the intrusive NSA activities and capabilities.

The world has also to redefine the word "national security" since monitoring everyone's e-mails and phone calls, eavesdropping on world leaders and hacking into companies from China to Germany and Brazil are all included in this category in the US.

I guess many in China might regret that they didn't get to keep Snowden a year ago. But Snowden's revelations, of which only 1 percent has been made public so far by the UK newspaper The Guardian, will continue to prove that the US has completely lost the moral high ground when it tries to accuse others of cyber espionage, whether against foreign governments, individuals or corporations.

The indictment of PLA officers is just a futile distraction from its troves of dirty secrets.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

(China Daily 05/24/2014 page5)

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