US-China Talks on Cyber Security: An Exercise in Futility
According to the World Bank’s 2012 Knowledge Economy Index, both the US and the PRC fall within the top 100 countries. It must be noted, however, that the gap between the US and the PRC is quite wide in this respect. Regardless, this is where one finds the justification of PRC’s recent activities.
As a medium, cyber space allows PRC to take advantage of the low cost of entry and low risk of escalation should it be caught with its hand in the proverbial “cookie jar” of US proprietary information. Though tried and tested techniques such as corporate or state espionage are always available, a more subtle approach is called for to avoid escalating tensions beyond the initiator’s control. As such, cyber space lends the PRC an air of plausible deniability in light of difficulties attributing cyber security incidents to a particular country. In turn, the US takes advantage of cyber space as a means to quietly “reprimand” erring countries, like the PRC. If the news coming out of the PRC of US cyber activities is true, coupled with allegations of the whistle blower Edward Snowden, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the growing trend of cyber conflict.
Given that no treaty or international law exists that governs behavior in cyber space, the exchange of cyber-attacks between the United States and the People’s Republic of China is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Any form of bilateral agreement that emerges from future talks is most likely to serve merely as a curtain to hide what we expect to be a continuous exchange of cyber munitions.