Week In News: Hacking — Made In China

This past week, the Pentagon fired off a stern warning about Chinese computer hacking, and the Chinese responded with a tense rebuttal. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Arun Rath speaks with James Fallows, national correspondent with The Atlantic, who's been in Beijing all week and saw the response firsthand.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath.

Coming up, Rapper LL Cool J on staying authentic. But first, a Pentagon report this week slams China for its hacking.

DAVID HELVEY: Numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the United States government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to PRC, government and military organizations.

RATH: That's Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Helvey. And the PRC he mentioned is, of course, the People's Republic of China. And that's where we find James Fallows of The Atlantic this week. He joins us from Beijing, about as far as he can get from the Atlantic. Hi, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Arun. Nice to talk to you.

RATH: Likewise. So the Chinese fired back with their own accusations after the Pentagon report this week. What was the reaction there in China?

FALLOWS: The official reaction to this report is what it's been over the last couple of years, which is a, essentially, boilerplate denial that China is involved in this problem in any way for any reason. And the official claim of the Chinese government is one that's very rarely believed even within China, which is that China is uniquely a victim of the whole cyber landscape and modern politics and that the U.S. military is the one that really needs to be held accountable here.

In private conversations, Chinese officials, of course, can't deny what the official stance is. I think there's a recognition that something more is called for. And the interesting concept that's come out of some of these meetings is the idea that rather than spend time with both governments trying to document their exact accusation against the other, there might be some use in treating cyberattacks as sort of this (unintelligible) form of previous weapons of mass destruction - whether it's chemical weapons a century ago or nuclear weapons over the last half century - and find ways to make this less threatening seeming on both sides.

For example, a cyber hotline that might be established between China and the United States or other ways to make the systems and the potential attacks more transparent on each side.

RATH: So, Jim, you've been in China all this week attending functions involving the Chinese national security establishment where they're mingling with members of the American military - high-ranking members. What's behind all that?

FALLOWS: The basic idea here has been that other parts of the Chinese and U.S. establishment have gotten to know each other - the financial world, the governmental world, the academic world. But there is much less connection at the military level. And the premise is that if these two militaries don't have any idea of what the other is like, mutual suspicions, which are going to be there anyway, will become all the worst. So the idea is to have these military professionals talk face-to-face about the ways they view the threat from the other side.

RATH: Did they hit it off?

FALLOWS: It seemed it was a - I was there as a nonmilitary member of the U.S. delegation. I was impressed by the ways in which the military profession is the same around the world. And it seemed as if there were ways in which each side was able to be somewhat less fearful of the other after these talks.

RATH: Finally, Jim, it appears that China is unveiling a new slogan. I didn't really realize that countries had slogans, but I guess that's a thing in China?

FALLOWS: It is amazing as each new president of the country and general secretary of the communist party comes in, there's something that represents his view. Back in the time of Hu Jintao, the predecessor of the current leader, this was known as the Harmonious Society. Before that, it was something called the Three Represents, which I'm not even going to try to explain.

But now, you hear more and more references to what they call the Chinese dream, which have seemed to be a combination of national increased strength, economically and diplomatically, but also a way for individuals to realize their personal, their financial, their environmental and their intellectual interests. What exactly this will mean in policy is not always clear, but certainly this is the phrase on everyone's lips and on most billboards.

RATH: And is that like the American dream?

FALLOWS: I think it is coined in awareness that there are other dreams for other nations. But also, there is a kind of Chinese history, too, of the idea of a dream that would bring the nation to greater power. When the Beijing Olympics were held five years ago, its slogan was: One World One Dream. So this idea of the dream as a vessel for the improvement of the country as one that in China, as in the United States, has had some background and some currency.

RATH: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much and safe travels coming home.

FALLOWS: Thank you very much, Arun.

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