China a serious threat to US in cyberspace, outer space

CHINA has emerged as a serious threat to the US in cyberspace and outer space.

A new Pentagon report has highlighted many intrusions into computer networks around the world – including some owned by the US government – which ostensibly originated from China. It also asserted that Beijing was developing space weapons capable of disabling satellites in a conflict.

The assessments feature in an annual report on China’s military power by the Defence Department for the US Congress.

Chinese capability in the two areas could leave a technologically sophisticated America more vulnerable in what experts called “asymmetrical warfare”.

“The Pentagon is more concerned about the Chinese as a military technology competitor,” China watcher Ted Galen Carpenter of the Washington-based Cato Institute told The Straits Times.

“It is not just China’s growing potential to neutralise US air and naval power in the Western Pacific, which would be crucial in a confrontation over Taiwan.

It is China’s use of asymmetric capabilities, especially cyber warfare, which could disrupt the American economy.

“The Pentagon is worried that Beijing is creating a first- class security capability and an offensive one at that. The anti-satellite test that the Chinese conducted last year was a wake- up call for US defence planners. Until then, the US had regarded the Chinese military as second-class.”

The Bush administration was critical of China destroying a defunct weather satellite last year, saying orbiting debris due to the attack posed a danger to other space assets.

“We continue to ask the Chinese to talk to us about that test and they haven’t,” Mr David Sedney, the Pentagon’s top China specialist, told reporters on Monday after releasing details of the report.

Interestingly, the report follows a warming of ties between the two militaries.

Two agreements were signed last week in Shanghai – one on installing a telephone hotline between both sides in emergencies, and the other in which China allowed access to sensitive records on US soldiers missing since the 1950-53 Korean War.

But suspicion and tension continue to underscore their military relations, most significantly over Beijing’s military build-up.

This year’s report emphasises on China’s expanding space technology. “China further views the development of space and counter-space capabilities as bolstering national prestige and, like nuclear weapons, demonstrating the attributes of a world power,” the 56-page report said.

China, it noted, had developed a range of weapons, and high-powered lasers which could jam and destroy satellites. It was also constructing a new launch complex on Hainan Island near its southern tip – the site where a US spy plane had collided with a Chinese fighter jet in 2001.

It said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was improving its own satellite capability. Beijing is also expected to replace all foreign-produced satellites in its inventory with home-made models by 2010.

On cyber warfare, the report noted that intrusions apparently from China into computer networks used “many skills and capabilities that would also be required for computer network attack”.

It said it was not clear if the intrusions were carried out or backed by the Chinese military but “developing capabilities for cyber warfare is consistent with authoritative PLA writings on this subject”.

The thrust of the report, however, clearly revolved around Beijing’s need to bolster its military to prepare for Taiwan contingencies, including the possibility of US intervention in the area.

The Pentagon’s latest estimate is that as of November 2007, the PLA had deployed 990 to 1,070 short-range ballistic missiles in garrisons opposite Taiwan.

But the report says Beijing would be deterred “on multiple levels” from invading Taiwan. It warned that a war would lead to international sanctions, damage China’s economic development, destroy ties with the US and taint Beijing’s coming Summer Olympics.

As in previous years, it also noted that Beijing was developing capabilities to “alter regional military balances”. Chinese military planners were looking beyond Taiwan.

“The PLA is no peasant military,” a Pentagon official told The Straits Times in a recent interview. “How can it be if it has short-, medium- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, space-based targeting capabilities and other technological advances with military application?”

The report noted that the PLA was expanding its naval fleet and conducting exercises in international waters.

The Pentagon’s perspective has clearly been shaped by uncertainties about Chinese intentions.

“The real story is the continuing development, the continuing modernisation…and unfortunate lack of understanding, lack of transparency about the intentions behind those and the way they’re going to be deployed,” said Mr Sedney.

But studies carried out here suggested that the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies might be “embellishing” China’s military power to justify an arms build-up.

A report by the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defence Council – two US-based arms control groups – said it could push the two countries into “a dangerous action and reaction competition”.

“Military planners always need a rationale – a real or potential danger – for why they must have new weapons or new strategies and plans,” the study noted.

“With the dissolution of the Soviet Union…the US has turned its attention to China to help fill the vacuum.”

PENTAGON’S WORRY

“The Pentagon is worried that Beijing is creating a first-class security capability and an offensive one at that. The anti-satellite test that the Chinese conducted last year was a wake-up call for US defence planners. Until then, the US had regarded the Chinese military as second-class.”
CHINA WATCHER TED GALEN CARPENTER of the Washington-based Cato Institute

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