Small Wars Journal

SWJ Short-Take: We Must Do More to Enforce the US–China Cybersecurity Agreement

SWJ Short-Take: We Must Do More to Enforce the US–China Cybersecurity Agreement

Davis Narwold

Despite the 2015 US-China Cybersecurity Agreement, China continues to steal classified military technology. These thefts represent a serious threat to US economic and national security. Far from victimless, the thefts accounted for nearly $600 billion in company losses in 2017.  It is imperative that any prospective future conversations between President Trump and President Xi include reaffirming China’s commitment to halt IP theft campaigns against US firms.

This past February, Chinese agents illegally accessed the servers of a US Defense Contractor and stole highly classified data regarding submarine warfare. Both the Chinese FC-31 fighter jet and Caihong 5 drone so closely resemble their US counterparts that coincidence seems unlikely. Part of the United States’ security relies on its qualitative military edge, in essence, the gap between the US’ military technology and competitors. If Chinese theft is allowed to continue, this qualitative military edge will continue to shrink, leaving the United States more vulnerable.

Efforts to push back on these thefts need to come from all levels.

First, targeted companies need to become better at sharing information about security breaches. Disclosing intrusions can be embarrassing for companies; however, the flow of information can contribute to an overall increase in cyber resilience; as other targeted companies will have a better sense of adversarial threats that they should be considering.

Second, the US government needs to accompany private sector efforts by increasing the penalties for cyber theft. As the Chinese company ZTE found out, the US is capable of levying huge fines against, if not outright banning, corporations that violate US sanctions. Similar actions need to be taken against companies practicing in cyber theft.  Increasing the severity of punishment increases deterrence against bad actors.

Finally, we need a strong dialogue with senior Chinese government officials.  The Trump administration needs to make clear that these thefts harm bilateral relations, and will result in penalties to Chinese trade and investment across the board if they do not stop.

President Trump’s trade threats against China stem from his desire to protect American industry.  The negative effects of Chinese cyber theft are well known.  The need for action is now.  By raising the punishment for those caught in cyber theft, President Trump can reaffirm the US commitment to pursue action against these criminal acts.  By halting these thefts, Trump can show his true commitment to putting American interests first.