Changing the behavior of China’s leaders

Paul Schwietering
By Paul Schwietering

On the front page of the May 20th New York Times I saw the headline “Chinese Hackers Resume Attacks on U.S. Targets.”  The article, written by David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, reports that “three months after hackers working for a cyber unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to computer industry experts and American officials.”

“The Obama administration had bet that ‘naming and shaming’ the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers – or at least urge them to become more subtle.”

“But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyber power, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies.”

The article goes on to note that “Mandiant, a private security company that helps companies and government agencies defend themselves from hackers, said the attacks had resumed but would not identify the targets, citing agreements with its clients.  But it did say that the victims were many of the same ones the unit had attacked before.”

The article goes on to report that “Recently, the group took aim at companies with access to the nation’s power grid.  Last September, it broke into the Canadian arm of Telvent, now Schneider Electric, which keeps detailed blueprints on more than half the oil and gas pipelines in North America.”

The article goes on to report that Schneider Electric “did not return requests for comment” on Sunday.  Obviously, the implications for our electric grid and our oil and gas pipelines are enormous, particularly if a national emergency occurred.

The article goes on to note that “Mandiant’s findings match those of Crowdstrike, another security company that has also been tracking the group.  Adam Meyers, Director of Intelligence at Crowdstrike, said that apart from a few minor changes in tactics, it was ‘business as usual’ for the Chinese hackers.”

“In a report to be issued Wednesday, a private task force led by the President’s former Director of National Intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, and his former Ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., lays out a series of proposed executive actions and congressional legislation intended to raise the stakes for China.”

“‘Jawboning alone won’t work,’ Mr. Blair said Saturday.  ‘Something has to change China’s calculus’.”

“The exposure of Unit 61398’s actions, which have long been well-known to American intelligence agencies, did not accomplish that task.”

The article notes that “American officials and corporate executives say they are trying to persuade President Xi Jinping’s government that a pattern of theft by the People’s Liberation Army will damage China’s growth prospects – and the willingness of companies to invest in China.”

My view of this situation is that unless the executive actions and congressional legislation proposed by the President’s task force are extremely strong and forceful, and backed by the President and both Houses of Congress, China will not change its behavior.

Does anybody actually believe that “American corporate executives” will stop investing in China, with its 11¢ an hour labor (not to mention prison labor) unless there is legislation forcing them to do so?  Anyone who does should take a tour of all the empty factories in Mexico (70¢ an hour labor) that were abandoned after China was granted “most favored nation” trade status.

Paul Schwietering is a former Democratic state central committeeman for the 14th state senate district.