Is China a Cyber Paper Tiger?
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Is China a Cyber Paper Tiger?


Two recent studies of national cyber power have placed China near the bottom of the table. China is number 13 on the EUI-Booz Allen Hamilton Cyber Power Index, behind Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil but better off than Russia, Turkey, South Africa, and India (the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia are the top three). The Brussels-based Security and Defence Agenda groups China with Italy, Russia, and Poland in the fifth tier (the U.S. and the U.K. are in the third tier, below Finland, Sweden, and Israel; the top group is empty).

These are very subjective studies based on interviews, surveys, and vague metrics. Still, they cut against the grain of popular perceptions. If you were just paying attention to the almost weekly reporting in the Western press about alleged Chinese cyber espionage, you could be forgiven for thinking that China ruled the cyber waves. Yet recent writings in the Chinese press have more of a “China is vulnerable” flavor and suggest that analysts, if not characterizing the country’s cyber strategy as weak, think there’s a great deal of work that remains to be done.

The work ahead is defensive and offensive, technical and strategic. Zhang Yongfu, a professor at the PLA’s Information Engineering University, told the PLA Daily that the “cybersecurity situation” was in its early stages.  As with every other country, deciding which bureaucracies should be involved in defense and coordinating among them is difficult; cyber management, in Zhang’s words, is fragmented and ineffective.  Since a cyber event could develop over hours if not minutes, policymakers must seriously wonder if the People’s Liberation Army, Public Security Ministry, State Security Ministry, and Industry and Information Technology Ministry can successfully coordinate their roles during a crisis.

Chinese analysts are also grasping with the conundrum that if you wait until you see a problem in your networks, it may already be too late. The Pentagon’s Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace says it will employ “active defense”— “synchronized, real-time capability to discover, detect, analyze, and mitigate threats and vulnerabilities.” Former Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III compared this to combining a sentry and a sharpshooter. This article on China National Defense News also uses the concept of active defense (积极防御), involving a reliance on cyber reconnaissance and surveillance as well as the realization that defense must be conducted at “all times and all places,” which could be read to mean “defense” in other countries’ networks.

As with most articles about cyberspace, there’s a fear that China could lose control over information “nodes and infrastructure” and outside powers could distribute rumors that mislead the public. The growing dependence of the military on networks is a new vulnerability as other powers are preparing to sabotage network command, control, communications, and intelligence systems. Technology is a big concern in all of these articles: the United States has it, China doesn’t. There are also discussions about how the PLA and others can attract and retain hacking talent.

What to make of these assessments? Someone is bound to find a quote from Sun Tzu (Here’s an easy one: “All warfare is based on deception; when we are able to attack, we must seem unable”) and suggest that these articles are meant to confuse, mislead, and lull the United States into a false sense of security. Maybe these articles are primarily focused on domestic audiences, signaling to the Chinese public that the leadership isn’t standing still while the United States develops a cyber strategy, or perhaps to various domestic institutions and actors that they need to get on board with the emerging strategy.

Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Chinese policymakers fear that they really are at the bottom of the table. Despite outside perceptions of the coherence and efficacy of Chinese cyber strategy, Chinese analysts are feeling increasingly vulnerable in cyberspace.

Adam Segal is the Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @adschina.

John Chan
February 11, 2012 at 23:36

NYT, WSJ, BBC, etc. are the core components of neocon imperialist black information network, if you take their words as given truth, you must be very resentful that the world has not yet shown gratification for the bombing and killing carried by the Westpac under the leadership of USA since WWII.

Using fabricated stories to back up allegations is called perjury in the western societies.

John Chan
February 11, 2012 at 23:23

You are wrong, Apple(Steve Jobs) and Microsoft(Bill Gates) are the villains against the free flow of information and knowledge, they have been prosecuted all over the world for killing indigenous technology developments and they have been fined billions for their crimes. Only USA a morally bankrupted financial egoistic nation will protect them to rip off people in the name IP rights, as well as force other nations opening doors to let them rob too.

Yes, I have heard “What mines are mine and what yours are also mine,” it is called Wall St. On top of that it is also called “too big to fail” and “license to rob;” they made millions of people lost jobs and homes in order to pay themselves billions of dollars bonuses.

DownGreedyUSA, it is flat out thief and high way robbery on the global scale, your actions only prove you are a willing accomplice that caused the suffering and poverty of those hundreds of millions lost their jobs and homes.

Both Steve Job and Bill Gates did not invented their OS from scratch, they modified the work from others who had the ideal of sharing knowledge and free flow of information; but they created IP scam to block others from enjoying the benefits free flow of information and knowledge that they had enjoyed.

Ignorance and bigotry are the worst aspects of mankind, surly there are a lot of them in your comments.

February 11, 2012 at 17:49

@John Chan:
I have facts for everything I said – not Chinese fabricated facts John Chan. Here it is, read the article to educate yourself

February 11, 2012 at 06:21

@John Chan:
People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs simply make this world a better place through their innovations. They are super rich – no doubt about it but they make the world rich as well. They create millions of high paying jobs. Tell me how many jobs Apple create in China? Is China a better place today because of people like Steve Jobs, Micheal Dell or Bill Gates? You really bite the hands that feed you.

There should be stronger laws to protect those innovations and tough punishment for whom violates like China. It’s so disturbing that Chinese government are stealing software from American technology companies. Your president Hu Jintao came to White House making promises to stop software piracy in China while his government officials used illegal software.

“What’s the harm to make those greedy patent holders to have few dollars less in their bank accounts meanwhile millions of other can benefit?”
You describe yourself more than you realize. It’s flat out theft John Chan.
Have your heard “What mines are mine and what yours are also mine”? That’s China ways of life.

John Chan
February 11, 2012 at 05:42

Fabrication from thin air is shameless, everyone can make your kind feeble accusation, such as China industry continue to notice American government agencies hacking and destroying their control systems they should not do, you can provide explanation to white wash their crime too.

As the article said USA is at top of cyber security technology, and protecting profit is the first duty of all those American technologies companies, it is illogical that American technologies companies will let anybody undermine their profits. Taking those phantom companies’ allegations as given truth sure prove you are bashing China with ill faith.

John Chan
February 11, 2012 at 05:05

I wonder why didn’t you look at the problem more objectively, why do you insist on depriving all the people in the developed world with opportunity to access knowledge and having a chance to get out their sickening poverty, by siding with those super rich patent holders who have more money than they know how to spend it.

If you are so righteous, why do you fell into the IP thief trap set up by the patents lawyers and merchants to scam rest of population relentlessly? Do you know that current patent protection is out of date and is no long protecting the inventors and creators anymore? Patents are commodity nowadays, it is the big business, lawyers, and speculators are making the fat profits. People like DownGreedyUSA and you are the accomplices that deprive the developed world people from opportunity to better themselves. What’s the harm to make those greedy patent holders to have few dollars less in their bank accounts meanwhile millions of other can benefit?

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the villains in the eyes of Free Software and Open Source communities as well as the General Public Licence community, because they suffocate the free flow of knowledge hence slow down the progress of civilization.

John Chan
February 11, 2012 at 04:27

I’ll explain to you, hiding behind an anonymous screen name and pumping out endless fabrication to smear a harmless nation is a coward animal, in the west it is called chicken.

USA is the biggest IP Patent Trolls, currency manipulator and squatter. It is a facts not smear ranted baselessly by the USA. USA is the biggest squatter because USA stole the whole North America from the Natives, it is a piece of land bigger than China. USA printed trillions of USD via QEs, flooded the world with fiat currency, it is a currency manipulator that the world has never seen before.

There are hundreds of USA organizations using invalid patents to extort ransoms via litigations; USA is endangering the freedom of internet for their personal greed gratification. USA’s patent obsession is the cancer of human civilization.

February 11, 2012 at 02:09


American technology companies continue to notice Chinese government agencies downloading software updates for programs they have never bought, at least not legally. Passerby, please comment.

February 10, 2012 at 23:32


Why should I spend time to argue with someone on the Internet? Do you think my time is that worthless? I said what I needed to say. what’s the point to argue who’s less bad? 3 of 4 software copies are pirated versus 2 of 3 copies? Do you want to know something about illegal copies of DVD? Go ask the owner of Paris By Night and let a Vietnamese producer answer your question. Didn’t you read what I said above: “…If you want to discuss anything more meaningfully, you should avoid the Internet like a plague…”

February 10, 2012 at 20:06

>>”Taiwan is the richest, Hong Kong second, Malaysia third and the Phillippines fourth and their piracy rates reflect their economic standings”.

And why are the Filipinos so “honest” (69%), considering they are poorer than the (mainland) Chinese? Or take Thailand, which has about the same GDP per capita than China (2010). How do you explain that the Thais’ software piracy rate is 5 points lower than the (mainland) Chinese and 4 points higher than the Filipinos?

You are against “singling out China for political and ideological reasons”, but look at your attitude vis-à-vis Vietnam. What is it “specific” about Vietnam’s “morality” ranking, according to YOUR reasoning?

You opened this can of worms. Be brave and continue to defend yourself. Let’s compare numbers, without political nor ideological intentions. Tell me how shameful Vietnam is with respect to other forms IP violations and let’s see at which ground stands your China.

February 10, 2012 at 19:13


“… If you want to focus on the mentality issue, you should ask why a lot of other Asian countries have a much lower piracy rate than China? (Taiwan=37%, Hongkong=45%, Malaysia=56%, Philippines=69%)…”

Taiwan is the richest, Hong Kong second, Malaysia third and the Phillippines fourth and their piracy rates reflect their economic standings. People can not justify their stealings based on economics. But economics has a lot to do with morality or the lack thereof.

I’m all for calling out China on whatever wrongdoing she’s committed, but I’m equally against singling out China for political and ideological reasons.

“…And remember, we are talking only about software piracy, not trade marks stealing, not counterfeits, license breaching, illegal copies of DVD etc…”

Do you really want to open these cans of worms and see how Vietnam is doing? Go figure.

February 10, 2012 at 17:29

Another way to put numbers into perspective is to compare the US GDP (14.5 Trillions $) to China’s (5.9 Trillions $). Then compare US software piracy commercial value (9.5 Billions $) to China’s (7.8 Billions $). Proportionally to their economy sizes, Chinese gains much more from illegal software copying than Americans.

I did not try to prove that Vietnam is better than China. I wanted to show that there are two ways to look at the problem.

In my humble opinion, with piracy rates of 78% (China) and 83% (Vietnam), there is nothing to be proud about, morally speaking, for both countries, albeit Vietnam joined WTO only in 2010 (therefore its piracy rate should have reduced at a faster rate since 2010). If you want to focus on the mentality issue, you should ask why a lot of other Asian countries have a much lower piracy rate than China? (Taiwan=37%, Hongkong=45%, Malaysia=56%, Philippines=69%)

If you want to focus on economic issues (how can I best protect my revenues from software sales?) then China is certainly the country to worry about, not Vietnam.

And remember, we are talking only about software piracy, not trade marks stealing, not counterfeits, license breaching, illegal copies of DVD etc…

February 10, 2012 at 16:04

Do you know China and Russia at the top of priority watch list of United States Trade Representative Being on the priority watch list is very serious. U.S. intelligence agencies have pinpointed many of the Chinese groups responsible for cyberspying in the U.S., and most are sponsored by the Chinese military.

According to you, cats are loving animals. So are you OK if I label China as “Cat” instead of paper tiger? Good deal?

February 10, 2012 at 15:43


“…If you have the means to go abroad and study economy, which country would you prefer, Singapore or China?…”

Of course students would choose Singapore (better scholarship money, more cosmopolitan, work part time to earn dollars, etc…). But what counts more? Getting a piece of paper that gives you some cache to show off or what you really really want to practise? People get the theories from that piece of paper but they turn around practise what they really mean to practise. So who wins the battle and who wins the war?

“…So in terms of piracy rate, Vietnam ranked 16th and China 30th (2010). But in terms of absolute loss to the industry (~ earning by the thieves), China ranked 2nd and Vietnam 28th. The US is in fact the champion in piracy gain (9,5 $M)…”

You showed your absolute and total ignorance about piracy rankings. The percentage is way more important, much more important than the absolute amount, because the percentage shows the degree of theft among a country’s consumers which is a MORAL judgment on that country, the absolute amount has everything to do with the size of the country. The US has the largest amount because of its size, not because of the degree to which her consumers are thieves.

February 10, 2012 at 14:23

(Software piracy contest: Vietnam vs China)

I have checked the data (
Vietnam: piracy rate=83%, Commercial Value($M)= 412
China : piracy rate=78%, Commercial Value($M)= 7,779

So in terms of piracy rate, Vietnam ranked 16th and China 30th (2010). But in terms of absolute loss to the industry (~ earning by the thieves), China ranked 2nd and Vietnam 28th. The US is in fact the champion in piracy gain (9,5 $M).

Comparing China with the ASEAN countries, only Vietnam(16th) and Indonesia(11th) are above China in piracy rate. In absolute terms, the aggregate damage they caused to the industry in 2010 is about one half of the damage done by China.

I could not verify the anecdote about the scholar poll of opinions among Vietnamese students in the HCM city University of Economics Studies. But this poll would show the non-sectarism (and pragmatism) displayed by Vietnam’s students. I wonder what would be their answer if the question was: If you have the means to go abroad and study economy, which country would you prefer, Singapore or China?

February 10, 2012 at 11:14


Since you are not littering the forum with slogans this one time, I am pleased to reward you with some information. According to the Fifth Annual BSA (Business Software Alliance) and IDC Global Software Piracy Study, Vietnam has achieved the honor of being ranked one of the top ten thieves of software in the world, but China lacks behind at 17. Congratulations Vietnam, now you are a bigger thief ahead of China.

And let me give you another piece of information. A US scholar to the Fulbright Program of Economics Teaching in Hochiminh City, Vietnam (funded by the US government and managed by Harvard), in the course of giving a lecture on economic development, asked the audience about their vision of economic development for Vietnam, the participants were unanimous in citing, get this…not even Singapore but China as their inspiration. And these are the upwardly mobile young future leaders of Vietnam. I wonder if you might be curious as to who that US scholar from Harvard is.

Last but not least, the way you characterize ‘cat’ will certainly be objected to by millions and millions of cat lovers out there. You know there are even programs at hospitals that use cats for therapeutic purposes for their patients because cats are such a loving creature.

Love is always better than hate and I feel sorry for you. By the way, if you are serious about discussions of anything, Internet fora are really bad for you. The Internet fuels and accelerates people’s ignorance, negative emotions, polarization and the deterioration of reason. If you want to discuss anything more meaningfully, you should avoid the Internet like a plague.

February 10, 2012 at 03:22

I’ll explain to you then. Tiger is a powerful and honorable creature – it is the king of a jungle. In contrast, cat is a coward animal. China is seen by the world as IP thieves, currency manipulator and squatters. China has no class. Sorry it’s the truth.

February 10, 2012 at 01:18

From this article, you can see how hypercritic US are. US, including those senators & congressmen, complain China hacks into their systems. But, in fact, US have done more cyber intrusion to China and other countries more than many people know.

February 9, 2012 at 22:10


Your cognitive capacity may be limited, but do try to offer someting of substance instead of shouting and littering slogans all over this forum. Substance please.

February 9, 2012 at 18:11

China looks like a cat more than a tiger.

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