Last month, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced that “neither country’s government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors.”
When the agreement was announced, The Heritage Foundation was incredibly skeptical. “The reality is that the president has just made another paper agreement that will do little to change the behavior of bad actors.” The agreement allows the Administration to pat themselves on the back but fails to address the situation.
It is safe to say that the deal just isn’t working out. CrowdStrike, a private cybersecurity provider, has issued a public report with evidence that they caught China-affiliated actors red-handed. The Chinese hackers have been hacking, or attempting to hack, U.S. companies, including networks of tech and pharmaceuticals, starting the day after President Xi left Washington, DC. Since China has yet to acknowledge that they ever engaged in cybercrime, it’s really no wonder they broke this meaningless agreement.
The elephant in the room is China’s alternative view toward warfare and cyberspace.
The Chinese have a dramatically different view of cyberspace and warfare. For them, their cyber operations, ranging from the economic to the more traditional government espionage, are just parts of their larger warfare strategy during peacetime. On a domestic level, the U.S. believes the Internet is a tool that enriches commerce and freedom, while the Chinese government fears the Internet for the same reasons.
With such profound differences between the U.S. and China, it was clear the Chinese never intended to uphold their end of the bargain.
The U.S. should respond aggressively to this clear violation of the agreement to show that it does not tolerate the actions of cyber espionage. There are four ways to do this:
- Cease cooperation. No longer participate in cyber war games, dialogues, or working groups with the Chinese;
- Constrain travel. Limit visas to the U.S. for individuals and organizations suspected of cyber-espionage;
- Create economic repercussions. Implement economic sanctions that will impose costs on bad actors; and
- Challenge Internet control: Weaken Chinese Internet control mechanisms. This would raise the cost of domestic control through the promotion of democratic movements.
The agreement made by the Obama Administration was based on the false assumption that China was a trustworthy partner in combatting cybercrime. Instead of securing cyberspace, however, this agreement surrendered the moral high ground to China. Rather than just saying, “I told you so,” Congress now needs to clean up this failed policy and work to actually change China’s behavior.