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  • Author: Adam Segal, Rob Knake
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of International Affairs
  • Institution: School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  • Abstract: When transition planning gets underway in earnest this fall, one of the hardest memos to write will be the outbrief from the current National Security Council (NSC) team on what to do about China’s ongoing campaign of cyber espionage targeting the intellectual property of U.S. companies. While long a focus of both the president’s cyber and China teams, there is little chance that in the coming months the issue is going to be brought to any type of resolution. Instead, the next president will inherit a partially implemented plan that has produced positive results in the short term, but its long-term sustainability remains uncertain. He or she would be wise to follow the playbook left by the Obama administration, with a redoubled focus on the investigation and prosecution of cybercrime. Critics of the administration on this topic generally fall into two camps. One, summed up nicely by the title of a book by Peter Kiernan, is the Becoming China’s Bitch camp.[1] In this view, the United States is so dependent on China that the Chinese can do what they want and there is little Americans can do to stop them. They hold U.S. debt, Americans can’t manufacture anything without them, Chinese students are leaps and bounds smarter than American students, and there are millions more of them studying science and math. The Chinese are strategic, looking around the corner of history and shaping it in their interests. They are playing three-dimensional chess and President Obama has been playing checkers. They put the blame on what they would characterize as Obama’s willingness to “lead from behind.” They then quote Sun Tzu, reference Unrestricted Warfare, and drop the mic.[2] The second view is the Coming Collapse of China camp.[3] In this view, despite an aggressive anti-corruption campaign and a more assertive foreign policy, China is weak, wounded, and dangerous. The Communist Party made a deal with the devil, offering economic growth in exchange for loyalty to the regime. Now, the leadership can’t keep up with their end of the bargain. Growth is slowing, and at a faster pace than the official figures acknowledge. Over investment continues and economic reforms have stalled. Air and water pollution are a drag on the economy and a threat to citizen health. Paranoid about any dissent, the party has tightened restrictions on the Internet and the media and arrested feminists, civil rights activists, and lawyers. One spark could start protests that lead to widespread instability and perhaps the end of Communist Party rule. What’s interesting is that these divergent views of China’s place in the world similarly predict there is little chance that China will cease stealing intellectual property. In the first view, China holds all the cards, and there is simply nothing the United States can do to impose costs and stop the hacking of companies. If China is desperate and dangerous, then it can’t stop stealing technology and business secrets because they are needed to fuel the economy.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Intellectual Property/Copyright, Cybersecurity, Conflict
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Asia, North America