Summary: Our newspapers coverage of the world consists to a large extent of propaganda. Nations appear as either allies, enemies, and wilderness. And rivals are often portrayed as enemies, no matter ow much spin or outright fabrication required. Here we look at China, attempting to see through the fog.
The first of two posts; tomorrow we look at China’s real estate bubble.
- China the evil militarist
- China the cyberattacker
- For More Information
(1) China the evil militarist
China dares to seek regional hegemony, just like the US did early in our history. They date to seek military strength proportionate to their new rank among the world’s great powers. Our government — echoed by its courtiers and the press — portrays these things as evidence of China’s malevolent intentions to disturb world peace. Seldom mentioned is that the US and its allies outspend China’s military by 7x+. Spending just by Japan, S Korea, and Australia almost equals China’s.
What China should say to the world:
It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers.
We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between China and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt by other nations to extend their influence to any portion of East Asia as dangerous to our peace and safety.
We could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing our neighbors, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward China. It is the policy of China to leave our neighbors to themselves, in hope that other powers will pursue the same course.
— A slightly altered version of the key lines of Monroe’s speech in December 1823
Would China be sincere in these words? Based on their history, probably more so than was the United States. In the 19th century we provoked war with Mexico, taking one-third of its land. In his Memoirs Grant described the war as
“one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.”
That was just the opening act of our sad relation with our southern neighbors. See this list of US interventions in Latin America during the 20th century. Little in China’s long history suggests that it will act as belligerently as has the US.
For more info see “China’s Military Development, Beyond the Numbers“, Andrew S.Erickson and Adam P. Liff, The Diplomat, 12 March 2013.
(2) China the cyberattacker
Lately the news media have overflowed with allegations of cyberattacks by China. This joins together two streams of US propaganda.
First, computer security firms like Mandiant have a long history of exaggerating (sometimes fabricating) cyber-threats. For obvious motives.
Second, threat exaggeration is the foundation of US national security strategy> It’s how the government builds support for our massive military. Bomber gap, missile gap, the Tonkin Gulf incident, the Team B warnings of the Red Peril, Libyan hit teams roaming America, Saddam’s WMDs, jihadists and commie sleeper cells in every community, and now Chinese cyberwar … Is there is no threat Americans’ will not tremble in fear before, no matter how often they are proved exaggerated — or false?
“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”
— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about how to start the Cold War. On 12 March 1947 Truman did exactly that. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place, James P. Warburg (1948); in 1941 Warburg helped develop our wartime propaganda programs.
As for the latest scary story: few of the news stories mention the difficulty (often impossibility) of determining the source of cyberattacks. As Marcus Ranum wrote in Cyberwar: About Attribution (identifying your attacker):
The media embarrass themselves whenever they try to tackle attribution of cyberattacks. The FBI or CIA say “it came from an IP address in China” to which anyone who understands cybersecurity can only respond “so does approximately 1/2 of all the traffic on the planet!”
If an attacker wanted to arrange it so that their attack came from a Chinese IP address block, it would take about 10 minutes to set that up. Or, would you prefer it to come from Luxembourg? Also 10 minutes.
To give you an idea: in 1997 I was involved with backtracking an attacker who was physically in the UK, but was laundering his connection through a server in Amsterdam that gave him access to a university computer in the US, from which he was dialing into a corporate system and then attacking another corporation through the first’s firewall. If the IP addresses were how the attack were attributed, it would have looked like a major investment bank was attacking a web hosting firm. Backtracking and attributing the attack required a month of work from several high-level experts and – most importantly – two glaring errors on the part of the hacker.
A professional intelligence officer with hacking experts at their disposal and time to set up a covert operation could, literally, make it look like it came from anywhere, with the investment of a relatively small increment of work. When it comes to cyberweaponry, everything you think you know has to be thrown out the window, every time, so your investigation has to start at square one. You’re not just in a wilderness of mirrors; you’re in a wilderness that is made entirely out of mirror.
Reports and articles about China’s cyberattacks:
- “APT1: Exposing One of China’s Cyber Espionage Units“, Mandiant Intelligence Center Report
- “Mandiant APT1 Report Has Critical Analytic Flaws“, Jeffrey Carr (CEO of Taia Global), 19 February 2013
- “Exposé of Chinese Data Thieves Reveals Sloppy Tactics“, Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, 21 February 2013 — “A report on the Chinese group that breached the computers of U.S. companies reveals that they took few precautions against detection.”
- “Why Mandiant Report its a bad joke“, Andrei Bujaki (CTO, Internet Advisors Group), Cyberguard, February 2013
- “Scrutinizing The Mandiant Report: Taking A Hard Look At What It Proves And, More Importantly, What It Doesn’t“, John Artman (reporter at China Radio International)
(3) For More Information
Some posts about China’s rise to become a great power again:
- Power shifts from West to East: the end of the post-WWII regime in the news, 20 December 2007
- China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering), 9 July 2008
- A different perspective on the US and China, seen by an American living in Russia, 23 March 2009
- China – the mysterious other pole of the world economy, 22 July 2009
- Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power, 27 July 2009
- China moves to the center of the world. America moves to the edge, 6 January 2010
- Rare earths – a hidden but strategic battleground between the US and China, 5 May 2010
- How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010
- A look at the future (it’s already here, but it’s not in the USA), 29 September 2010
- Why China will again rise to the top, and their most important advantage over America, 11 November 2010
- Will China become a superpower?, 9 September 2011
- What China Wants Us to Understand about China’s Rise, 12 March 2012
- Are America and China secret twins? The similarities are striking, but we don’t see them., 17 May 2012
- Why does the US government seek a hotter conflict with China?, 15 October 2012