- - Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chinese government denials of military hacking against the United States have sparked controversy in China from the political left and right.

Chinese National Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Gen Yansheng called unfounded a report this week by the private U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant about persistent Chinese cyberattacks on the United States. He said the Chinese military does not support any hacking activities.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei announced China has been a major victim of massive U.S. cyberattacks but cited no evidence.

However, these boilerplate denials have caused strong reactions from all sides of the political spectrum in China.

The Global Times newspaper, a subsidiary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, echoed official denials. The newspaper called the American accusations “lies and fabrications,” but also criticized Beijing’s official denials as being “too officious, lacking specifics,” and caused by China’s habitual “excessive politeness” to the Americans.

China should stop being nice and humble; we should instead pierce wide open the thin veneer of pretentious mutual harmony with the American side and directly confront the United States,” the anti-American Global Times said in an editorial Thursday.

However, waves of criticism from China’s Internet community emerged on many leading websites, ridiculing China’s official denials and hawkish rhetoric on the cyberattacks.

“No denial means the accusations are false; once the government denies, the accusations are true,” an Internet user with the surname Ye commented on the popular sina.com website.

“A newspaper that makes up stories on a daily basis is now displaying righteous outrage?” another wrote on the Phoenix website, chastising the Global Times.

NAVAL DRILL IN PACIFIC

A three-warship flotilla of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Northern Fleet, based in Qingdao, held an 18-day drill in the Western Pacific that ended Feb. 15.

The maneuvers were provocative because they were conducted close to the areas controlled by Japan, Taiwan and U.S. troops based in Okinawa.

Billed by China’s state-run media as a “high-intensity and saturation” drill during the holiday season of the traditional Chinese New Year, the naval exercise was led by Vice Adm. Tian Zhong, commander of the Chinese Northern Fleet.

The flotilla sailed by the narrow Japanese strait of Miyako, which connects Japan’s Miyako island and Okinawa, triggering intense Japanese maritime monitoring of the Chinese vessels.

The drills began Jan. 19, when the flotilla first sailed directly to the South China Sea to greet PLA soldiers stationed on the disputed Spratly Islands.

The warship column then sailed northward toward the East China Sea near Taiwanese and Japanese territorial waters.

The exercise included anti-submarine warfare tactics, joint helicopter and ship operations, and high-seas armed pursuit, as well as a series of “patriotic” propaganda activities that were covered extensively by an onboard Chinese state-run television crew.

A key feature of this drill marked the first time PLA warships conducted long-distance operations without supply ships sailing behind. State media hailed the action as “a key accomplishment” that testifies to a navy’s ability to obtain provisions, fuel and ammunition from overseas, land-based supply depots.

JAPAN WON’T RELEASE RADAR DATA

A central point of contention between China and Japan over the past few weeks has involved a dispute over whether a Chinese naval ship aimed its fire-control radar on Japanese military units, as Japan’s government has said.

Japan accused China of recklessly locking the ship-based fire-control radar on a Japanese military helicopter on Jan. 19 and on a Japanese destroyer on Jan. 30, pushing Japan ever closer to taking military action and possibly triggering a major conflict between the world’s second- and third-largest economies.

After days of silence, the Chinese government denied the allegation and dared the Japanese to provide evidence of the Chinese action that, in naval terms, is considered a hostile act.

The Japanese government initially said it would release the sensitive military radar data as proof.

But defense analysts think the Chinese wanted to know how the Japanese defense system obtained the radar-detection data.

A senior Japanese defense official was quoted by The Japan Times as saying that providing the data to China would have “great risk in terms of defense, as it would mean that Chinese military authorities would be looking at the [Maritime Self-Defense Force’s] secrets concerning information-gathering operations.”

Diplomatic gamesmanship also is involved, as providing strong evidence might corner China into a position that could lead Beijing to openly declare war on Japan.

Many U.S. and Japan defense and intelligence officials prefer to provide China with sanitized technical data as evidence, without endangering defense technology and without the risk of embarrassing China into taking more dangerous action.

The United States officially backed Japan on the radar issue.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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