China sees PLA playing frontline role in cyberspace

Beijing says all means, including military ones, will be used to ensure nation’s online security

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 11:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 11:51pm

Beijing vowed on Tuesday to use all necessary means, including military ones, to wipe out subversion and attempts to undermine its sovereignty in cyberspace.

A strategy document released by top internet regulator the ­Cyberspace Administration said the use of the internet for treason, secession, revolt, subversion or stealing or leaking of state secrets would be punished. It also warned of penalties for working with “overseas forces” for sabotage, subversion or secession.

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It identified cyberspace challenges facing China, saying the ­internet could be used by other nations to topple the political ­system, incite social disorder or paralyse the financial or telecoms infrastructure.

“[China] will regulate internet activities within the country’s sovereignty, protect the safety of information facilities and resources and take all means, including economic, administrative, technological, legal, diplomatic and military, to safeguard China’s ­cyberspace sovereignty,” the ­document said.

Tang Lan, an information ­security expert with the China ­Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said Beijing saw cyberspace as an extension of its national soil.

“Just like [force] will be deployed on the front line for attacks on China’s territory, military forces will be used for the same defence purposes in cases such as key informational infrastructure being attacked,” Tang said.

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Cybersecurity has been given high priority by the administration of President Xi Jinping, who once said “there is not national security without ­cyberspace security”.

Xi has urged the accelerated development of security systems to protect key information ­infrastructure.

The strategy document said the global race to seize strategic cyber resources and take the initiative in cyberspace had become increasingly fierce.

Beijing’s cyber strategy has triggered a backlash over concerns about the free flow of information, with foreign businesses complaining that internet ­controls have restricted their ­access to data.

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A cybersecurity law passed a month ago angered overseas firms with demands that operators of “critical information infrastructure” store important business data on servers in China , provide source codes and pass ­national security reviews.

The strategy document also comes at a sensitive time, with China critic Donald Trump to take office as US president next month.

Beijing and Washington have been pointing fingers at each other for years over cybersecurity, each accusing the other of hacking and stealing trade secrets.

Beijing suspended the two nations’ only cybersecurity working group in 2014 after Washington charged five People’s Liberation Army officers for allegedly stealing trade secrets.

Beijing has repeatedly said that China was a “victim” of hacking and that Chinese authorities had always opposed “cyber­attacks in any form”.