In an annual report to the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon said that China was responsible for targeting U.S. and global computer systems for cyber “intrusions”, and in doing so had built up an arsenal of skills “similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks”.
The blunt remarks, on the Chinese government’s involvement in cyber-snooping on U.S. computers, came barely two months after a U.S. cyber-security company Mandiant said it had traced an “Advanced Persistent Threat” to a shadowy unit of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The Pentagon’s latest salvo was however promptly dismissed as groundless by Chinese officials. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the U.S. military establishment had repeatedly “made irresponsible comments about China’s normal and justified defence build-up and hyped up the so-called China military threat”.
She cautioned that pointing the finger at China was “not beneficial to U.S.-China mutual trust and cooperation... [and] groundless hype and criticism will only harm bilateral efforts at co-operation and dialogue”.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon report clearly spelt-out specific concerns about China’s alleged involvement in cyber-intrusions, including the charge that these efforts were focused on “exfiltrating information”, primarily by using Chinese computer network exploitation (CNE) capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defence industrial base sectors that supported national defence programmes.
The Pentagon added that such data could potentially be used to benefit China’s defence industry, high technology industries, policymakers and military planners.
However, some questioned the basis of the accusations against China in the Pentagon report, particularly after Xinhua news agency pointed out that a recent report by China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Centre cited the U.S. as “the largest source of cyber attacks” threatening China's cyber security.
Further, the Pentagon’s take on China’s role in cyber-espionage was questioned after a discussion on the terms of a $10-million defence contract during a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing made it clear that that U.S. troops operating in Africa were leasing China’s Apstar-7 satellite.
However the Pentagon report this week left little doubts as to China’s growing military power projection. It reported that China had signed agreements for arms exports worth $11 billion from 2007 to 2011 and that Pakistan remained Beijing’s “primary customer for conventional weapons.”
Specifically China was said to engage in both arms sales and defence industrial cooperation with Islamabad, including co-production of the JF-17 fighter aircraft, F-22P frigates with helicopters, K-8 jet trainers, F-7 fighter aircraft, early warning and control aircraft, tanks, air-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, and cooperation on main battle tank production.