One of the predictable two-step dances in U.S.-China foreign relations goes like this: First, an arm of the U.S. government issues a carefully worded statement referring to recent activities carried out in, or by, China—all deeply documented. Second, a representative of the Chinese government flatly denies everything.
This mini-drama played out again this week. On Monday, the Pentagon made public a report for U.S. lawmakers presenting evidence that China’s military had attempted to hack U.S. government computers to steal defense secrets. “China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs,” the report stated. The electronic intrusions “appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military.” The report marks the first time the U.S. government has directly accused China of cyber-espionage.
On Tuesday, unsurprisingly, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters it was all hogwash: “We’re willing to carry out an even-tempered and constructive dialogue with the U.S. on the issue of Internet security,” Hua protested. “But we are firmly opposed to any groundless accusations and speculations.”
A flat-out rebuttal leaves little opening for discussion. However, myriad recent reports from U.S. government agencies, private security firms such as Mandiant, and media (including Bloomberg Businessweek’s recent cover story, “Yes, the Chinese Army is Spying On You,” and “A Chinese Hacker’s Identity Unmasked,”) might lead a reasonable observer to conclude: Yes, the Chinese army is lying to you. Again. For the record, Hua maintains: “China has repeatedly said that we resolutely oppose all forms of hacker attacks.”