Submitted by the Firecracker Report
In an extremely intriguing development today Google threatened to close down its China operations after unearthing a highly sophisticated attack aimed at accessing gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists. According to Google the attacks originated in China and included accounts of U.S. and E.U. based activists. Google made the announcement today in its blog-post titled "A New Approach to China".
In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. This attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.
By labeling these attacks as "highly sophisticated" Google is essentially pointing a finger at the Chinese government/intelligence agencies. That the cyber attack has been elevated to a U.S. national security threat level, is evidenced by the State Department's involvement, and a statement by Secretary Hillary Clinton in which she asked Beijing to respond to Google's allegations. A report in the Telegraph offered further details:
The State department said that Mrs Clinton had met with executives from Google and Microsoft, as well as with Cisco Systems, which provides much of China's internet infrastructure, to discuss how to stop countries from "stifling" access to information.
Most interestingly, the Telegraph went on to point out that:
Next week the US is to launch a new technology policy to help citizens in other countries to gain access to an uncensored internet.
Returning to Google's announcement, Google's blog outlined the reasons why Google has decided to potentially pull out of China completely:
We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China. These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
We do not doubt the veracity of Google's claims. Cyber warfare is the covert game nations play, and these attacks are nothing new. Several U.S. military and scientific institutions such as NASA - with far more sensitive national security information have been the target of hacking from China. In November 2008, a bipartisan U.S. Commission to analyze economic and national security relationship with China concluded that, "China has stepped up its capacity to penetrate U.S. computer networks to extract sensitive government and private information".
However, what we question is the following:
- Why is Google threatening to close operations at this juncture - i.e. four years after they entered China knowing full well that they will have to censor information to comply with Chinese government regulations. In 2006, Google seemed to completely disregard the human rights and freedom of speech considerations arguing that "the benefits of providing increased access to information to Chinese citizens outweighed the discomfort of censorship". Then why the sudden about face and embracing of altruistic values such as "freedom of speech" now?
- If the U.S. Government has not stopped doing business with China, despite its Communist status, countless cyber attacks, stealing of state secrets, human rights abuses and lack of freedom of speech and democracy, then why the about face by Google?
- The link between the Chinese Government's (implied involvement but not explicitly stated by Google) hacking of gmail servers to extract dissident information and Google closing its entire operation in China (search engine and cell phones running on Android) is tenuous and illogical at best. While the attacks are no doubt serious, we wonder if they are serious "enough" for a company like Google to forsake the world's largest internet subscriber market.
- So far Google has not had much success in China's internet search market having captured only 1/3 market share. Its chief competitor Baidu.com controls the remaining 2/3. In addition by pulling out of China Google does not stand to lose too much, as pointed out by Bloomberg: "A pullout would deprive Google of an estimated $600 million in annual revenue [out of total revenues of $24 billion, thus a very small percentage] and may help domestic Baidu extend its lead in the world’s largest online market. “There’s no other competitor, so if Google pulls out, Baidu is left by itself,” said Erwin Sanft, an analyst at BNP Paribas SA in Hong Kong". Now Google has to have factored in the scenario that the Chinese government calls its bluff and asks them to "leave".
- It is highly unlikely that the Chinese government will acquiesce to allowing Google to operate an unfiltered search engine, especially when Baidu, a domestic Chinese player (that the government can control), holds a 2/3 market share. In the current shaky economic scenario the Chinese government will try its level best to keep a lid on citizen's dissent. To do this it has unfortunately resorted to severe censorship of the Internet banning services such as facebook, twitter and youtube. Even so, the Chinese government is not illogical in this endeavor - it is well aware of covert campaigns launched by the U.S. government via facebook and twitter in Iran to help overthrow the Iranian government. China is not about to let the U.S. push the same fate on its own government.
So in our opinion, what all this posturing boils down to, is the fact that a new and dangerous war-front has opened up - one between the U.S. and China. Currently the war is economic, political and covert in nature. The U.S. government knows that the nations fiscal situation is abysmal and that China holds the trump card over its fate by being its largest creditor. In addition faced with rampant joblessness, a weakened U.S. consumer is more dependent that ever, on cheap goods manufactured in China. While cheap Chinese imports allow the Fed to keep a lid on domestic inflation, they do not alleviate rampant U.S. unemployment. Protectionist pressures are growing on a desperate U.S. government struggling to fix the unemployment situation. This tussle has led to the imposition of trade sanctions against Chinese companies on non-strategic sectors like certain steel and tire imports.
To top this situation neo-con hawks in the U.S. government and military accustomed to the nation being the world's sole super power, fear the rapid rise of China. They fear the global domination of a Communist nation and this in turn has led to naval and airspace incursions into Chinese territory by the U.S. military, as well as the geo-political blockages by the U.S. to severe Chinese access to the world's mineral and oil resources. The current crisis in the Middle East an oil rich region is a direct result of this strategy.
As the economic situation deteriorates, these tensions are only going to escalate. While the U.S. government is not going to start a military excursion with China anytime soon, strategy hawks know that one way to slow the rise of China and reduce its grip on America's economic collar is to create a suitable diversion for the Chinese government. The U.S. intelligence apparatus, which has several decades of experience staging coups and overthrowing democratically elected governments across the world, is now staging a similar policy with China.
China's non-democratic set-up and autocratic communist party rule is its Achilles heel in its rise as the world's leading economy. With China's economy deeply intertwined with declining U.S. consumption, huge swaths of its population who are employed in manufacturing and related sectors stand to lose their jobs. Couple this with the fact that there exists a complete lack of democracy, freedom and human rights in China. The Chinese government knows that young unemployed people, especially those whose rights have been suppressed, always make a deadly cocktail. It wants to avoid setting off this bomb at any cost. The Chinese government has unfortunately responded to this threat by clamping down on information provided via the internet.
And this is the loophole the U.S. government is now trying to exploit in its pursuit to weaken China. This explains the recent "freedom of speech" campaign launched by the U.S. to "educate" the Chinese people to revolt against their own government. Barack Obama fired the first salvo when he visited China last year where he told a town hall gathering that he was "a big supporter of non-censorship". He went on to state that "These freedoms of expression, and worship, of access to information and political participation - we believe they are universal rights. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any nation." Now the State Department along with Google (whose CEO Eric Schmidt is a huge supporter of Obama) have joined the "freedom of speech" chorus, which will only grow louder in the coming days.
We would like to point out to our reader that we do not support China's autocratic suppression of its people's freedoms. What we are merely trying to point out here is that there a deeper strategic (and frankly on some level inherently evil) rather than altruistic motive behind Google and President Obama's "freedom of speech and democracy" lecturing. If China is truly to try to become a global power it needs to willingly unleash democratic forces within its borders. The Chinese government would be safer doing this on their own terms rather than have their hand forced by American propaganda (at which point widespread civil unrest in China is a given). The Chinese people would do well to pay attention.