Obama Needs to Respond to the Chinese Government Hack — and All Their Other Provocations, Too

by Michael Auslin

The news flashing through Washington, that Chinese hackers stole up to 4 million federal employees’ personal information, should elicit more than just a shrug from the Obama administration. The breach is yet more evidence that Beijing sees the U.S. as an adversary and is unworried about any response aggression will elicit from the White House. 

Whether it’s economic espionage, security challenges, or now hacking U.S. government websites, Beijing is testing, probing, and undermining America in any way that they can. Just a week ago, the Chinese were recorded warning a U.S. Navy surveillance plane away from the reclaimed islands they have been building in the South China Sea. Video footage showed air strips on the islands, while subsequent reports indicated that China had already put some weaponry there.

The hack revealed today, which took place last December, is not the first time that Chinese sources have breached U.S. government sites, and they’ve been charged with stealing information on almost every U.S. weapons program. Nor should we forget the explosive Mandiant report from 2013, which revealed how the People’s Liberation Army hacking corps had stolen terabytes of sensitive data from American companies over a period of years. 

Obviously, international “politics ain’t beanbag,” to resurrect Mr. Dooley’s famous dictum, but that is exactly why the Obama administration’s refusal to hold China to account for its aggression only abets worse behavior. There is still talk of inviting the Chinese navy to 2015 RIMPAC, our largest naval exercises, even after they sent a spy ship last time around. And the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue will undoubtedly go on again this year, with the highest officials from both sides attending. The Chinese must be delighted at this fecklessness.

With only a year and a half left in office, President Obama should end the charade of cooperative U.S.-China relations and start tightening the screws. Drop the useless diplomatic parleys to start, cut off military exchanges after that. And start rounding up your liberal allies and potential partners in Asia for talks on joint naval exercises in the South China Sea and the hosting of a democracy forum that invites Chinese dissidents. Clearly, the current path is failing to moderate Chinese behavior in any way. Obama has little to lose by showing some spine.

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