- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Feb. 11, the United States announced that four individuals were arrested on charges of conducting espionage operations for the Chinese against American interests. One employee, who worked for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, was hours from meeting his Chinese intelligence service contact when he was arrested.

The reaction from the Chinese was swift and fierce. “A farce,” they called it, and “Cold War thinking.” We are to be assured that the accusations that China is spying on the United States are groundless.

I could not disagree more. While there is little broad agreement about U.S. defense and trade policy toward China, there is widespread agreement among security experts that China is systematically seeking classified information about the United States. These arrests were not isolated incidents, but rather just public examples of a long string of events that have been building over the last decade.

One reason China has been successful at obtaining sensitive information is the untraditional spying methodology used by the Chinese, which involves a network of students, tourists and industrial workers. In that regard, the Chinese have a huge advantage on their side — an increasingly educated population of 1.3 billion people with the potential to assist the government in espionage.

These activities reflect Chinese efforts to acquire knowledge that will position China to not only be an equal with the United States, but also to possess a dangerous set of tools that — given the right circumstances — pose a significant threat to the United States. To be clear, I do not believe it is China’s direct intention to engage in a military confrontation with the United States. But, with an ever-increasing military budget, increased cyber attacks and stated efforts to form a blue water Navy capable of operating far beyond China’s vast coastline, it ought to give U.S. policy-makers pause about the ultimate destination of our most favored trading partner’s military might.

There are three prudent steps the United States can take now to responsibly address China and Chinese espionage.

First, we need to significantly reform our perspective toward China in our government, which currently is a patched-work quilt of stovepiped views determined largely by whether you are a businessman, a trade representative or an admiral overseeing the Pacific theater of operations. A better alternative would be to establish a “whole of government” policy to better align the policies of our State Department, military, intelligence services and other branches of the government. In doing so, we create a system to look at an issue holistically, which allows each player to work in concert, not in opposition. This is going to require reform to the interagency process, and particularly the planning, organization and decision-making structures.

Second, we need to recognize that 21st-century conflicts, if they involve traditional military platforms at all, will certainly also involve warfare on computer networks, informational warfare, anti-access strategies and attacks on satellite systems that are central — in the simplest meaning of the word — to our military capability. It will not be enough to have the most ships and planes; rather, it will also be who best protects their computer networks and satellites to guide and communicate with those ships and planes.

Finally, we need greater transparency from China. When I have traveled to China, it is startling how much information Chinese leaders and the public know about the United States. We cannot afford to develop policy and negotiate in an information deficit. Open dialogue among major powers in today’s world community is vital. Without this communication, misunderstandings can quickly lead to missteps, which can have catastrophic consequences.

The difference between how the United States and the Chinese view transparency is striking. Last January, China shot down a weather satellite in an unannounced test of their anti-satellite capabilities, and then denied the test publicly for days. This February, U.S. plans to shoot down a decaying satellite were announced in advance in a press conference at the Pentagon and on national news networks — and the secretary of defense promised comprehensive information disclosure to China and other foreign countries to assuage any concerns they had. It is clear we need communication so that we can complete the second part of a central adage, “trust but verify.”

The Chinese have many sayings to describe their philosophy on life. One is, “If you don’t go into the cave of the tiger, how are you going to get its cub?” The Chinese are in our cave with 2,000-3,000 front companies and confirmed cases of hacking into Defense Department computers. Yet, at the same time, we are afraid to look too closely at the cave on the other side of the Pacific because we are afraid the cub might not sell us cheap consumer goods, or worse — it will sell off its U.S. dollars, sending the value of the dollar through the floor.

I firmly believe that when we know the threat we are facing, the United States has the capacity to deal with any threat, any challenge, better than any country in the world. We just need to take the threat of China seriously. Because the Chinese also have another saying, “The arrogant army will lose the battle for sure.”

Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

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