As the hubbub around Google’s abrupt withdrawal from China begins to fade (see previous blog article here) observers have started noting the security threats posed by the rise of the Chinese corporatist state (you simply can’t call the People’s Republic communist any more).  Foreign Policy and The New York Times both explore the close nexus between China and its domestic security firms, the likely source of the cyberattacks and the difficulty for the Obama administration in formulating an adequate response.  Google is not the first American software behemoth to fail in China.  Yahoo essentially abandoned its Chinese operations to a Chinese owned subsidiary.  The situation is made worse by the Chinese lack of respect for intellectual property (a recurring sore point in trade talks) and their continued attempts to appropriate foreign technology for its domestic companies.

The concerns about the Chinese government’s close nexus with its domestic corporations is not new.  Concerns about cybersecurity were raised when IBM sold its personal computer to Lenovo.  But the recent phase of cyberattacks should force muddling Washington bureaucrats to appreciate the real risks to American foreign policy.  They could also take their cues from science fiction, from the Cylon attack and destruction of the 12 colonies, for the impact of a casual disregard of the cyberthreat.

The United States has often been trapped between its desire and tradition to preserve the free flow of information and security concerns.  American software companies grumbled in the Clinton years about the government’s insistence on having an access key to get pass any encryption software sold on the market.

China is not the only corporatist nuclear power that poses a cyber threat.  In the past few years Russia has actively used cyberattacks to bring its former satellites from the Soviet Union like Estonia to heel.  To what extent the Kremlin controls its rabid nationalistic hackers is not clear (though the scale and the timing attacks is suspicious).  To be fair to the Russians, they have approached the United States to have a treaty to prevent an cyberwar arms race on the lines of the chemical weapons treaty.  However as this article notes, both sites have been caught up in a philosophical dispute over whether to address this by a treaty or a law enforcement agreement.  The recent attacks on Google underscore the need to reach an agreement to build co-operation with the Russians and upgrade America’s cyber defenses.

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