Forget the Great Firewall ... China is beefing up its ability to police all cyberspace

Policy document also pledges to prevent an arms race in the cyber realm amid US claims that Chinese hackers have attacked American government targets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2017, 6:13am

China plans to bolster its defences in cyberspace while keeping a close eye on the US government’s review of its own strengths, a ­senior foreign ministry official said on Thursday.

Cybersecurity has been a flashpoint for Sino-US ties, with the US accusing the Chinese ­government and military of ­cyberattacks against US targets. Beijing denies the claims and says it is a victim of hacking.

Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has not ­commented on the cybersecurity feud with China, but last month he scrapped plans to sign an executive order for a US cybersecurity overhaul.

China, meanwhile, released a blueprint on Wednesday to increase international cooperation in cyberspace and to strengthen its own cybersecurity systems. “Enhanced defence capability in cyberspace is an important part of China’s endeavour to modernise its national defences and armed forces,” the document said.

China would also “prevent cyberspace from becoming a new battlefield” and “prevent an arms race in cyberspace”, according to the blueprint released by the foreign ministry and the national internet regulator.

China ‘willing to work with Trump on cybersecurity’

Beijing would “expedite the development of a cyber force” and take preventive diplomatic measures by stepping up dialogue with other countries to study new threats that affected international peace and security.

Long Zhou, the foreign ministry’s coordinator for cyber affairs, said China was paying close attention to the US review of its cybersecurity defences. Beijing also hoped to resume dialogue with the US in the area.

“The US policy on cyber­security is still unclear. So we will wait to find out [if the dialogue will ­resume],” Long said.

When asked about long-standing US accusations of attacks by Chinese hackers, he underscored Beijing’s position that it was the “major victim” of hacking.

“[China is] unlike other people who always portray themselves as the victim and point the finger at other countries,” he said.

Long also warned against the risks of an arms race in cyberspace.

“We are concerned about the emerging trend of enhanced deterrence [among other countries]. This is not conducive to international security and mutual trust,” he said.

Beijing suspended a cyber­security working group with the US three years ago after Washington accused five Chinese military officers of stealing trade secrets. The talks resumed a year later.

State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Public Security ­Minister Guo Shengkun met US officials in Washington in December and discussed tackling cybercrime.

Chinese public security chief heads to US for talks on cybercrime

China, home to the world’s biggest number of internet users, routinely censors online content, including blocking international social networking sites such as Facebook.

Long said China advocated freedom of speech for its ­citizens, but stressed the need for regulation in cyberspace.

Qin An, director of the China Institute of Cyberspace Strategy, said Trump’s America-first agenda and his plans to pull Washington back from its role as the “world’s policeman” could mean the US was unlikely to ­lecture China on its domestic ­regulation of the internet.

But cybersecurity could still be a source of tension between the two countries under the Trump administration, Qin said.

He also said the growing ­importance of cybersecurity to national sovereignty meant there was a need to institutionalise ­defences against cyber attack.

“China and the US should formally establish a cyber force as part of the military, but it should not lead to an arm race,” Qin said.