Had the Chinese shot intercontinental ballistic missiles into 33 US-based businesses including those in the finance and defense industries as well as the Mountain View-based headquarters of Google, there would be no question in anyone's mind as to whether war had been declared on the US. Is there any difference now that a Chinese government-backed organization has cyber-attacked 33 US businesses? Let's be honest with ourselves. It was an act of war and it deserves more of a response from the US government than it is getting.Let's review the major events so far. First, a Chinese government-backed organization exploits a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer to cyberattack 33 US-based companies. One of those companies -- Google -- responds with a decision to flip a censorship switch (one that it installed in order to run its business in China) to the off position. China responds that it will not tolerate the breaking of its censorship laws.
On behalf of the US government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives an Internet freedom speech reminding the world that everyone on the planet has certain unalienable rights to communication and information. The Chinese respond by putting the US on notice that Clinton's speech was not only untruthful with regards to the facts, but that it threatened ongoing US-China relations.
The Chinese government authorizes a cyberattack against US interests (at least that's what the intelligence is saying) and now, it's lecturing us on how a speech could damage US-China relations?
Let's get a couple of things straight. If the attacks were indeed backed by the Chinese government, then what China did was an act of war against the US. I don't see how it can viewed any other way. The attacks didn't involve bombs, bullets, blood, or death. But this is what war in the 21st century is going to be like. As such, it shouldn't be China that's putting the US on notice. It should be the other way around.
(UPDATE: This isn't the first time we've seen evidence of cyberattacks sanctioned by the Chinese government. See: Evidence Points To China In Cyberattacks. The story predates the Google/China incident by over 2 months.)
I watched Clinton's speech yesterday and thought very highly of it. Although I wondered if it was really the people who prepared the speech for her, I felt as though she demonstrated a command of the Internet, software development, and the innovation that the IT industry is known for in ways that I've never seen a politician at her level demonstrate. And I liked her message about the freedoms that all people should have and how the Internet stands for connection, not division.
But the more I think about her speech, the more I feel like the tide has turned and that, in it's response so far, the US is acknowledging that China is the world's new superpower. Clinton's speech may have asked the Chinese for a thorough review of the cyberattacks, but it didn't put China on warning. Instead, she basically asked American businesses and media outfits to take on that role (which, in essence, is what Google is doing). Yes, the US government will pitch in. She talked about how the US government is backing the development of technologies that help those who might be sensored (dissidents, human rights activists, etc.) to circumvent those controls.
But, in an act of whimpy eggshell walking, the US government has not responded as though this were an act of war. No warnings. No stiff words from President Obama to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (at least none that we know of). No counter-declarations of war.
Instead, it's China warning the US.
How can someone looking from the outside in not conclude that the tipping point has officially arrived? The US needs China more than China needs the US. We need China to support our growing national debt (or otherwise put, our indebtedness to wealthy Chinese households). We need the Chinese to manufacture so much of what we consume. American companies are depending on the growth of the Chinese economy for their own growth because there's nothing domestically to depend on for that. We need China to keep North Korea from blowing the planet up.
The last thing the US needed was China declaring war on it, which in my opinion, is what it has done. The US government is just too chicken to admit it. Why? Because its inability to respond in kind speaks to a new balance of world power that's simply too frightening for the American people to consider.
David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. David likes to write about emerging tech, new and social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong and welcomes comments, both for and against anything he writes. He can be reached at email@example.com and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon, given his belief in the principles of cloud computing.
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