China Denounces Pentagon Report That Cited Cyberwarfare Threat

  • Spokesman claims ‘distortion’ in retort on ministry’s Weibo
  • Report comes before Obama is to visit Vietnam and Japan

China is denouncing interpretations of its military operations in the East and the South China Sea contained in a new new U.S. Defense Department report that spotlighted a focus on cyberwarfare.

The report “deliberately distorted” China’s defense policy and legitimate actions, spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement posted Saturday on the Chinese defense ministry’s official feed on Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging site.

QuickTake Cybersecurity

At issue is the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress on China’s capabilities, published Friday. China typically responds sharply to the U.S. assessments, and the 156-page document was released ahead of a visit to Vietnam and Japan this month by President Barack Obama amid increasing tensions between the U.S., China and Southeast Asian nations over sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

The report asserts that China’s military conducted cyber probes and intrusions against U.S. computer networks to support intelligence collection and electronic warfare.

Intelligence Gathering

“China is using its cyber capabilities to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs,” the defense department said in the report.

Highlighting what the Pentagon describes as China’s focus on improving cyber capabilities to counter a “stronger foe,” the report said information gleaned by hackers “could inform Chinese military planners’ work to build a picture of U.S. defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”

“The accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct cyber attacks,” according to the report. The intelligence gathering could also provide the ruling Communist Party “insights into U.S. leadership perspectives on key China issues.”

Yang, the Chinese defense ministry spokesman, warned in response that China wants the U.S. to stop using words or actions detrimental to maintaining mutual trust between the U.S. and Chinese militaries.

Contentious Islands

In the same statement, Yang said that China is reinforcing its military along defensive lines, to protect its sovereignty, security and territorial integrity. And the artificial islands being built in the South China Sea are mostly for civilian needs, said Yang.

The Pentagon report said that President Xi Jinping’s military in 2015 “accelerated land reclamation and infrastructure construction at its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” which when complete “will include harbors, communications and surveillance systems, logistics facilities, and three airfields.”

QuickTake: Territorial Disputes Simmer Around an Assertive China

“Although artificial islands do not provide China with any additional territorial or maritime rights within the South China Sea, China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases to enhance its presence in the South China Sea significantly and enhance China’s ability to control the features and nearby maritime space,” the report said.

China claims more than 80 percent of the South China Sea. Several other nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have competing sovereignty claims in the region.

New Airstrip

Adding to tensions, Chinese naval vessels followed and sent warnings to the USS William P. Lawrence this week as the vessel sailed within the 12-nautical-mile (22 kilometer) territorial zone around Fiery Cross Reef, a feature in the Spratly Islands where China has dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of sand and coral to create an island on which it has built an airstrip.

China called the U.S. warship’s maneuvers “a naked challenge,” while the U.S. said it was a “freedom of navigation” operation in international waters, one of many it has taken near contested reefs and outcrops. Chinese officials held a video conference on the tensions on Friday with Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Pentagon’s report also highlighted what it described as an an “extraordinarily rapid” expansion of China’s long-range precision strike capabilities. While China has a no-first-use policy toward nuclear weapons, the report suggested -- based on Chinese media reports and military writings -- that the country intends to build a stealth bomber to carry nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Triad

“If it does, China would develop a ‘triad’ of nuclear delivery systems dispersed across land, sea and air -- a posture considered since the Cold War to improve survivability and strategic deterrence,” according to the report. The U.S. has plans to modernize its long-standing nuclear triad.

One of the Chinese military capability developments being most closely watched is when its first JIN-class submarines start to said armed with JL-2 intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. These patrols have been forecast for at least two years in the Pentagon report and in Defense Intelligence Agency congressional testimony.

According to Friday’s assessment, “this platform represents China’s first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent.” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia Abraham Denmark told reporters Friday that China has not yet conducted a “deterrence” patrol.

“China will probably conduct its first” nuclear-missile armed submarine patrol sometime in 2016, the report said.

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