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National Security & Defense

Questions Regarding Indictments against Chinese Officials in Equifax Breach

President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

From the Wall Street Journal today:

Four members of China’s military have been indicted by the U.S. government on charges of hacking into Equifax Inc. and plundering sensitive data on nearly 150 million Americans as part of a massive heist that also stole trade secrets from the credit reporting agency.

The hack included reams of data — such as phone numbers, social-security numbers, and addresses — on American citizens and government officials.

This type of attack is in keeping with China’s long-term strategy vis-à-vis the U.S., as described in a 1998 book by two Chinese colonels titled Unrestricted Warfare. The authors, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, advocated the use of “asymmetric” levers to combat the U.S., including economic and cyber weapons. This strategy also involves linking industry with defense in order to extract synergies from parallel commercial and military technological development. Thus has China extracted technologies from American firms for use in both the economic and national-security realms.

Some preliminary questions in the wake of Equifax indictments:

  1. Should the U.K. rethink its decision to allow Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to build and operate part of its 5G network?
  2. Should American businesses holding sensitive data, such as Google and Apple, be prevented from working with the Chinese?
  3. Has Chinese president Xi Jinping overplayed his hand? Beijing’s rise has been accelerated by its leaders’ obfuscating their ambitions and instead projecting an image of a relatively weak country hoping to liberalize and join the international community. This brazen an attack would inevitably draw intense scrutiny at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and China. In light of Hong Kong protests, revelations of concentration camps for Uyghurs, and economic headwinds, I’m inclined to think Xi has gone too far on a number of fronts. Retreating will be difficult.
  4. What level of espionage and theft is the U.S. willing to stomach? China is a geopolitical rival. We should expect some level of espionage, do everything in our power to prevent it, and answer with offensive maneuvers. But at a certain point, coercion crosses into warfare, which would require a stronger decoupling from China. I’m not sure where to draw that line, but American officials should make it clear what we consider unacceptable.

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