Western accusations of Chinese hacking merit further examination

Washington and London are claiming that Beijing sponsored a cybercrime campaign against them three years ago. Why did they wait until now?

In March, the UK, in conjunction with the US and other members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, launched coordinated sanctions against a small group of hackers and their associated businesses in response to the alleged ‘attack’. Notably, the country’s Conservative party-aligned newspapers all pushed this narrative in an aggressive fashion.

These accusations by the Five Eyes nations are not so much genuine concerns as they are a deliberate and opportunistic act of political theatre which, largely driven by the US, seeks to slander China for diplomatic and political gain. The sanctions, although narrow in scope and thus meaningless, are designed to try and send a message to and about China. It is essentially a fearmongering campaign, which seeks to both undermine Beijing’s engagement with other countries and serve domestic political purposes in the US.

The US has an adept foreign policy whereby it intentionally chooses to escalate and de-escalate tensions with China at opportune moments, which is precisely why calls for “engagement” with Beijing coming from Washington D.C. cannot be trusted. The US does not change its goals or its policies, only its tactics in consideration of what suits it at that particular moment. Hence it has always alternated between overtures and deliberate provocations. It usually does so by having a certain report or development leaked to the media at an opportunistic time, in order to craft a particular narrative which mandates a certain set of reactions and policy responses.

To give some examples of such, the Trump administration played down tensions with China directly in 2019, even amidst the Hong Kong crisis, in order to secure a “trade deal” with Beijing. Once it got what it wanted by 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic struck, it deliberately unleashed a full-on crusade against Beijing on every front. Similarly, the Biden administration came into office and then immediately upped tensions with China on the Xinjiang issue in order to damage China’s ties with Europe in a build-up to coordinated sanctions as a display of transatlantic unity.

Now, the Biden administration has made a political design to escalate tensions with China by accusing it, in coordination with the Five Eyes, of state-backed hacking and cybercrime. The fact that the British government would sit on such an accusation for three years suggests both clear political purpose and timing. The question is, why? First, we are approaching a Presidential election in the US. It was always an inevitability that the administration would want to appear “tough” on China to prevent the issue from being used as an attack point by Biden’s rival, Donald Trump. As seen in 2020, an election year tends to become a year of very aggressive rhetoric and extreme theatrics.

Secondly, there is the goal of undermining China’s engagement with Europe. It has been publicly announced , including France. As stated above, the US, with the support of the Five Eyes countries, actively seeks to damage Chinese diplomacy with Europe by weaponizing negative publicity in order to narrow political space for engagement.

In conclusion, when one sees these strategies being utilised, one recognises that the Western media has far less independence and impartiality than it claims to have, but is indirectly subject to the preferences of US policy. W
hen the White House says “jump”, reporters ask, “how high?” and thus we see that a new propaganda campaign has been cultivated against Beijing, but of course, we should not be blind to the reality that there is no greater weaponisation of cyberspace and espionage in the world than the system created by the Five Eyes. And are we really going to pretend the CIA doesn’t hack anyone?