China’s Cyber Power

China’s Cyber Power

Nigel Inkster

Routledge, London, 2016, 156 pages

Book Review published on: April 7, 2017

Four questions that one might expect to examine when analyzing another nation’s cyber lineage and exploits include: How have cyber issues evolved over time and is the nation now cyber strong or weak? Is hacking a key aspect of the nation’s cyber activities, and if so, how is it used? How has the military adapted to this new development? And, what is the nation’s projected cyber future? Nigel Inkster, a person well-versed in cyber issues, answers all of these questions in detail in China’s Cyber Power, his new book on China’s cyber development.

In the book’s introduction, he lays out the components of China’s cyber strategy and notes that “China’s potential to shape the future of the Internet at a global level has attracted little attention from the West’s top policymakers.” This is an important point, as China is working together with Russia and other nations by “creating facts on the ground in support of its agenda” that appear to include eroding the U.S. advantage in the cyber domain. This may be one of the few points of disagreement I have with his work, as I feel the West is paying attention but, unfortunately, has not developed a preventative counter to date.

Inkster initially describes the institutional and policy adjustments that China made to enable it to pursue its agenda. Domestically, China has established controls on information so that online discourse is contained. The 2009 Document Number 9 established the seven taboo subjects (universal values, freedom of speech, civil society, civil rights, the historical errors of the Communist party, crony capitalism, and judicial independence) designed to control social media. These controls come from the top, as President Xi Jinping has taken a personal interest in cyber issues, heading the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group.

Fearing widespread unrest if the economy spins out of control, the government has tended to look at cyber industrial espionage as a quasi-legitimate method for domestic reasons. However, a huge reconnaissance network has been established to collect more than just economic information, and this hacking and espionage has continued unabated for several years. As Inkster notes, there was an “asymmetry of vulnerability” between China and the West, and China took advantage of it. The West continues to deal with the fallout this asymmetry, which is not just in technology but in legal means.

Inkster describes the evolution of the military’s cyber capabilities as part of Xi’s “China Dream” for a strong military. The latest evolution is the Strategic Support Force, which “appears to involve the integration of the Third and Fourth departments of the PLA General Staff,” with the former responsible for signals intelligence and the latter for radar operations and electronic countermeasures. Beijing sees “international negotiations on cyber governance and cyber security as playing a vital role in shaping the battlespace” for the armed forces.

Finally, Inkster describes how China favors the multilateral approach to solving cyber issues, which means it will be the state making the rules to protect a nation-state’s sovereignty and not the people. He details how cyber specialists in China have tried to influence cyber conferences worldwide, and how China has closely allied with Russia on most cyber issues. This includes developing joint codes of conduct and other bilateral policies, as well as collaborative work on defining terms. The maintenance of social stability and the protection of China’s perceived national interests continue to be the two issues that drive many of Xi’s cyber decisions. They are the key factors that buttress most of China’s input on international cyber negotiations. The hope in Beijing is that through such arrangements China can protect its cyber environment.

Inkster’s work is comprehensive yet highly readable. I would envision the book becoming a primary reference source for not only colleges and universities but also for governments searching for ways to understand China’s cyber methods. He has methodically and successfully provided an abundance of information in 150 pages.

Book Review written by: Timothy L. Thomas, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas