The dominant topic of news at the moment is the condemnation of Chinese cyberattacks, but the headlines should be about Chinese threats to nuke Japan. We need to accept the truth. China is a rogue state.
It makes for discomfort, but we need to accept that China, under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), was and still is a rogue state. For a brief while, they pretended to be a responsible state actor, but always whilst breaking as many rules as they thought they could get away with (particularly on trade). As a country that has emerged as one of the most powerful in the world, it is difficult to come to terms with the reality that the CCP was always a crazy extremist organisation, and that their rogue behaviour was inevitable. There are still many politicians, business people, and other people with influence still pushing the idea that, if we just engage with China, all will be well. It always was an illusion, and to continue to push this line now is an affront to common sense.
In the latest news, massive cyber attacks have originated in China, most notably attacking Microsoft’s exchange services, as well as many other criminal operations:
The broad range of cyberthreats from Beijing disclosed by international bodies on Monday included a ransomware attack from alleged Chinese government-affiliated hackers that targeted victims – including in the US – with demands for millions of dollars.
US officials allege that China’s Ministry of State Security had been using criminal contract hackers who engaged in cyber-extortion schemes and theft for their own profit.
The US Justice Department on Monday announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said were working with the Ministry of State Security in a hacking campaign that targeted dozens of computer systems, including companies, universities and government entities.
The defendants are accused of stealing trade secrets and confidential business information.
None of this should come as a surprise. A now-infamous book published by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Communist-controlled military in China, saw the two PLA officers who authored the book advocate for asymmetric warfare. A recent review of the book by an academic summarises some of the elements of the book as follows (the author downplays the threat, but the summary below covers the picture well):
A variety of new warmaking modes are identified: financial, smuggling warfare, cultural, drug, media and fabrication (i.e., information operations, propaganda), technological, resources, psychological, international law, environmental, and economic warfare.
China’s behaviour and approach to the rest of the world are captured in the summary above. The book is not a theoretical discussion but is instead capturing the policy approach of the CCP. The response to the cyberattacks has been surprisingly robust:
The EU was the first to put out a statement saying the attack came from “the territory of China”, while the UK said Chinese state-backed actors were responsible. The US is expected to follow suit.
The countries have also said the Chinese Ministry of State Security was responsible for other espionage activity.
The US and UK has frequently called out cyber-campaigns from nation-states, but to be joined by the EU in calling out Beijing signals the gravity with which this case has been taken. Western intelligence officials say the behaviour by China was markedly more serious than anything they have seen before.
In the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued tailored advice to over 70 affected organisations to deal with the attack.
New Zealand’s response was as follows:
“The GCSB has worked through a robust technical attribution process in relation to this activity,” said Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Minister Andrew Little. “New Zealand is today joining other countries in strongly condemning this malicious activity undertaken by the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) – both in New Zealand, and globally.”
The GCSB also found Chinese state-sponsored actors “were responsible for the exploitation of Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities in New Zealand in early 2021”, Little said late on Monday night. Microsoft said earlier this year that its email exchange software had been infiltrated.
Reflecting a familiar pattern China has responded to the complaints with anger and indignation. However, the denials are meaningless in the face of multiple security agencies around the world identifying the source of the attacks are linked to a Chinese state actor called Advanced Persistent Threats 40. As I proposed at the start of this discussion, this is the action of a rogue state. But there is worse.
Tensions have been simmering over Taiwan, with Japan committing to the defence of the country in the event of a Chinese attack. In a classic example of asymmetric warfare, China has threatened Japan with Nuclear war, whilst at the same time retaining deniability of the threat:
The footage – originally created by a military comment channel on Xigua, China‘s equivalent of YouTube – calls for Japan to be bombed into submission if it sends ‘even one troop’ into Taiwan.
It was first posted online two weeks ago where it garnered millions of views before being taken down, but was then reposted by the official account of the CCP in Baoji, a major city in China’s northern province of Shaanxi.
The latest threat comes on the heels of wider threats of nuclear war against adversaries, particularly the United States. How serious the threats might be is an open question, but that is all part of the strategy of asymmetric warfare. Encourage fear and doubts. And do so whilst still retaining the ability to deny any official status of the threats.
What we are seeing is not new but a ramping up of the aggression of China, as the CCP becomes more confident in its own strength and the decline of the strength of the United States and allies around the world. In particular, they are sensing the weakness of the Biden regime, and perhaps the CCP has even compromised Biden? Certainly, there are indications that this might be the case.
So the latest actions are not a change of direction, but rather a qualitative and quantitative change in intensity. This is very, very bad news. The confidence being shown by China is perhaps indicative of preparedness to take the final step, which is military action, in particular a military attack on Taiwan. Undoubtedly, China is itching to make such an attack but must calculate the likely response. China’s growing confidence suggests they think that the US and allies do not have a stomach for the fight. That is extremely worrying. In the meantime, it is time to face up to the reality that China is a rogue state, and there will be no peaceful coexistence or engagement as long as China is under the control of the CCP.
Perhaps it is time for us to meet asymmetric warfare with asymmetric warfare? At the very least an idea worthy of consideration.
As for New Zealand, in taking a firm line with China, China has threatened retaliation. All credit to the Labour government for finally taking a stand. There is no dealing with China unless you are willing to kou tou (kowtow) on an ongoing basis. So, the choice is to live on your knees with the economic benefits of good relations with China, or stand up and assert what is right and what is wrong. Labour has made the only reasonable choice.