South China Sea Spat goes Cyber
Image Credit: Tom Thai

South China Sea Spat goes Cyber

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China continues to raise the heat in its dispute with the Philippines over the sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island. On Monday, He Jia, an anchor on China’s state-run CCTV, mistakenly declared that “China has unquestionable sovereignty over the Philippines” rather than just over the disputed island. On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying warned a Philippine diplomat that China was fully prepared to do anything to respond to escalationDeep-water drilling has begun near islands in the South China Sea and Chinese travel agencies have reportedly suspended tours to the Philippines. Chinese netizens are fully in support of the claims, and have in many instances criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for not taking more assertive action.

As with previous territorial disputes in East Asia these days (see China-Vietnam, China-Japan, and Korea-Japan), the political, diplomatic, and military maneuvering has a cyber component. On April 20, Chinese hackers attacked the website of the University of the Philippines. The next day, Filipino hackers struck back with the defacement of Chinese websites. On the 23rd and 24th, the two sides again traded tit-for-tat attacks (a very useful timeline up until April 30 can be found here). Attacks have continued over the last week; attackers have also pasted the Chinese flag on the website of the Philippines News Agency.

From almost the beginning of the attacks, the Philippines government has called for both sides to stop. On April 22, a Philippines government spokesperson said, “We call on citizens, including ours, to exercise civil temperance.” On April 25, the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology and Information and Communications Technology Office declared that the attacks were neither sanctioned nor condoned, and on May 10 a spokesman went further in warning that such attacks “will not benefit anyone and could possibly lead to bigger problems in the future for the Philippines and China and escalate the already tense situation at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).” This is not a misplaced worry as freelance attacks could make it much more difficult for the two sides to communicate and signal intentions.

Unfortunately, there has been silence from Beijing on the issue. China’s leaders seem to be embracing the conflict, or at least the prospect of conflict, as a welcome distraction from the problems of Chen Guangcheng and Bo Xilai. As Michael Yip and Craig Weber argue, the Chinese government – after years of enrolling students in patriotic education that stresses a history of national humiliation – needs to align itself with and divert away from nationalistic responses to real and perceived slights. Political hacking acts as a diversion – venting resentment away from the regime, focusing web users’ ire on outside actors, and maintaining the government’s nationalistic credentials.

When China’s Minister of Defense General Liang Guanglie was at the Pentagon this week, he talked about how China wanted to work to improve cybersecurity. Beijing could gain a great deal of credibility by doing what the Philippines has done: call on both sides to stop the attacks.

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.

Comments
7
george
May 15, 2012 at 15:02

Sorry my dear. Do you know the history? You think PRC claims the entire South China Sea? NO!
ROC (today controls Taiwan) claimed South China Sea and created the 9-dash line in 1947. PRC is just to guard it.

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
May 13, 2012 at 15:37

THE FILIPINO STUDENT JUST RESPONDED TO THE OFFENSIVE INVASION OF CYBER ATTACK BY THE CHINESE STUDENT, THE HOPE OF THE FATHERLAND AS OUR NATIONAL HERO JOSE RIZAL SAID;ITS A PATRIOTIC FERVOR WHICH THE PILIPINO STUDENT HAVE FEEL WHEN THE CHINESE ATTACK PHILIPPINE CYBER TERRITORY. IT IS A COHERENT AND NATURAL ACTION IN ANY HUMAN BEING THAT IF WE FEEL WE ARE IN GREAT DANGER THEN WE WILL NATURALLY REACTS TO DEFEND OURSELVES…

THE SCARBOROUGH SHOAL AND THE SPRATLEY ISLAND WERE ALL LOCATED AT THE WESTERN PHILIPPINE SEA AND ITS INSIDE OUR HOUSE, IT MEANS ITS A PART OF THE HOUSE WHICH THE CHINESE COMMUNIST IS ILLEGALLY TRESPASS TO OUR PHILIPPINE DWELLING.

TODAY THE CHINESE INVADED PARACEL ISLAND, SCARBOROUGH SHOAL AND TOMORROW THE WORLD, IT JUST STARTED ALL IN WESTERN PHILIPPINE SEA TOWARDS SOUTHWESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN ISLAND NATION POINTING MAINLAND USA AND EUROPE…

Cyrus
May 13, 2012 at 05:39

That was hilarious, has indisputable sovereignty on the whole Philippines. Well they might be claiming our lands because they “found” it first their ancestors have been trading with the Philippines long before Spain came.

jmartin
May 13, 2012 at 04:49

For all its purported wealth and ascending power, China is not really all that great as a place to live.

Ling Nam
May 12, 2012 at 17:20

Is it over for China?

More Wealthy Chinese Said to Prepare Exits

Some immigration lawyers have seen a new increase in the number of Chinese seeking foreign citizenship, a trend they suggest is tied to worries about political turmoil and economic slowdown in China, especially among businesspeople and politicians seeking to protect their families and wealth.

“There’s definitely a surge in China for what I call ‘let-me-out-now’ product,” said Jean-Francois Harvey, an immigration lawyer based in Hong Kong who deals with clients throughout Asia.

The recent interest builds on a trend of growth in applications from Chinese seeking to emigrate to places like the U.S., Canada and the U.K

John Chan
May 12, 2012 at 13:19

“On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying warned a Philippine diplomat that China was fully prepared to do anything to respond to escalation”
On behalf of Chinese people, John Chan apologizes to the Philippines and the world that Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying is a brainwashed and uneducated man just like other elite CCP members. CCP is shameful of this illegal act.

Dawn Dare
May 12, 2012 at 00:40

China’s dubious and ridiculous claim that the Scarborough Shoal and the entire South China Sea (aka East Vietnam Sea, aka West Philippines Sea) is part of its territory runs contrary to what its own defense minister, Liang Guanglie said in the June 2011 Asian Security Summit in Singapore. He declared in no uncertain terms that “there has always been freedom of navigation in the South China Sea because NOBODY OWNS IT”.

It is now self-evident that the latest events expose Beijing’s imperialist ambitions beyond the Great Firewall and are intended as a sleight-of-hand to draw its propaganda-ridden population’s attention away from growing cracks and differences in opinion within the communist political and military leadership.

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