Tag Archives: cyberspace

China: Connected Strategic Themes Across Global Commons Pt. 2

Are there connected Chinese strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons (domains) of maritime, space, and cyberspace? If so, what are they and what could the United States do about them?

By Tuan N. Pham

Part 1 of this two ­part series explored the cross-domain nexus between the maritime, space, and cyberspace global commons by examining the latest Chinese white paper and strategies. Repeated refrains included the Chinese Dream (national rejuvenation); global interests, peace and development, security, and the development of national laws to advance China’s national interests in the three contested battlespaces. Special emphasis was given to the contentious concept of cyberspace sovereignty in support of national security and social stability. With this backdrop, Part 2 will now derive possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the interlinked global commons and discuss how the United States could best respond.   

The Chinese Dream

Chinese Manifest Destiny. Chinese strategists have long called for a comprehensive and enduring set of strategies to better integrate and synchronize the multiple strategic lines of effort in furtherance of national goals (ambitions) and as part of a grand strategy for regional preeminence, and perhaps ultimately global preeminence. China’s dream of national rejuvenation may be the answer to their calling. The prevailing leadership’s sentiment appears now expansionist and revisionist. The time has come for Beijing to finally abandon the long-standing state policy of hide capabilities and bide time championed by the iconic former President Deng Xiaoping; right a perceived historical wrong; put behind the painful humiliation of the past; and assume its rightful place on the world stage as a destined global power. China is unquestionably a confident economic juggernaut and rising global power, able to manifest its own national destiny – the Chinese Dream – and dictate increasing power and influence across the contested and interlinked global commons in support of national rejuvenation.     

Global Commons Sovereignty (Economic Prosperity vs National Security). Beijing’s maritime activities are driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory” crucial for its national development, security, and status. China seems to regard space and cyberspace very much in the same manner in terms of economic potential (value) and sovereign territory that requires developing and defending respectively. For now, there appears more policy clarity, guidance, and direction for sovereignty in cyberspace, while space sovereignty seems more fluid and may still be evolving policy-wise. Nevertheless, Beijing still needs to balance two competing national priorities – developing the domain economy (economic prosperity) and defending domain rights and interests (national security) – in all three contested and interlinked global commons. Many anticipate the initial emphasis will be on the economy since it is an enduring asymmetric counterbalance to the preeminent United States. The rationale calculus is simple for Beijing. Why would China opt to directly confront a militarily and economically stronger United States now when it can subtly and quietly undermine American preeminence through lasting economic partnerships and enduring political agreements (bilateral preferably and multilateral when necessary)? Beijing can always recalibrate later based on the fluid strategic conditions and confront Washington more directly and forcibly when opportunities arise, or if and when the balance of power shifts more in its favor.     

Shaping Law to Support Strategy. Last year, China announced its intent to create new domestic maritime laws in support of its evolving maritime strategy. These developing domestic maritime laws bear watching as a possible harbinger for the other contested and interlinked global commons of space and cyberspace and as an attempt to right a perceived historical wrong. The former is part of a continuing effort to set the terms for international legal disputes that Beijing expects will grow as its domain reach expands; the latter reflects China feeling disadvantaged (and taken advantage of) by a Western-dominated system of international laws established when it was weak as a nation and had little say in its formulation. In general, the broad legal approach makes a lot of legal, political, and military sense from Beijing’s perspective. China wants to set the enabling conditions for its future strategies across the contested and interlinked global commons in terms of implementation and sustainment. Beijing seeks to expand its domain borders through buffer zones. It will buttress and justify with legal underpinnings its growing domain presence and operations and also exert greater control within those buffer zones. China seeks to eventually shape international laws and norms (and develop accompanying domestic laws) to be more equitable and complementary to its national interests.

U.S. Strategic Opportunities

Maintain Preeminence. Just as maritime preeminence is necessary to guarantee the freedom of the seas, so too are space and cyberspace preeminence needed to guarantee the freedoms of space and cyberspace. By committing to preeminence in all three contested and interlinked global commons, the United States will better protect its critical strengths; enhance its deterrence posture by being able to impose larger costs, deny greater benefits, and encourage more restraint, and reverse the growing perception of American decline. Having complementary domain policies and strategies fosters unity of effort, optimizes resource allocation, sends a strong deterrent message to potential adversaries, and reassures allies and partners. To do otherwise invites strategic misalignment and miscommunication and encourages potential competitors like China to further advance their counter-balancing efforts in the maritime, space, and cyberspace global commons.    

Protect the Global Commons. Now is not the time to cede territory in the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace. China pursues very broad, long-term, and synchronized domain policies and strategies, and may view any perceived U.S. force posture reduction as another opportunity to reset the international accepted norms in its favor. Reduction may also increase Beijing’s confidence in its ability to shape and influence Washington’s decisions and encourage China to press the United States for additional domain concessions in return for vague and passing promises of restraint while it quietly and steadily expands and strengthens its positions in the global commons.                               

Dominate the Narrative. To compete with Beijing short of conflict, Washington needs to reframe the narrative that China dominates with accusations of containment. The United States could be more proactive and seize the messaging initiative like it does in the maritime domain. Former Secretary of Defense Carter hit the right resonance notes during the Shangri La Dialogue in June and in the November/December 2016 edition of Foreign Affairs with his gentle reminders to the region of America’s traditional role as the principal underwriter of maritime security, political stability, and economic prosperity in the Indo-Asia-Pacific; warning China not to build a “Great Wall of self-isolation”; and using the catchall concept of “principled security network of alliances and partnerships” to outline a vision that the United States has long sought to describe. The same needs to be done in the contested and interlinked global commons of space and cyberspace. The “balancing” message needs to be reiterated at every opportunity and at the highest level, and synchronized throughout the whole-of-government and with allies and partners. There can be no U.S. policy seams or diplomatic space for Beijing to exploit. In short, acknowledge that both countries have competing visions and encourage China to act as (or become) a more responsible global stakeholder that contributes positively to the international system.

Seize the Initiative. The maritime strategy and accompanying domestic maritime laws are coming, but China has not said when. The same can be largely said in the space and cyberspace global commons. Hence, Washington could privately and publicly ask Beijing now for discussions and briefings on its developing domain strategies and laws; challenge vague or problematic content and context, such as how the security and economic pieces fit together, and inquire how they comport with international law and rule of law, and if they do not, why not. Otherwise, silence concedes the strategic initiative to Beijing and allows it to control the strategic narrative.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the strategic window of opportunity to shape and influence Beijing’s developing domain strategies may soon close for Washington. To China, U.S. inaction implies tacit acknowledgement and consent to execute its domain strategies and strategic ambitions unhindered and unchallenged. At stake is nothing less than U.S. preeminence in the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace, and ultimately as a global power. For decline is a deliberate choice, not an imposed reality. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is published in national security affairs. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: The Tianhe-2 Chinese supercomputer at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha. (Zhao Zilong/Imaginechina, via Associated Press)

China: Connected Strategic Themes Across Contested Global Commons Pt. 1

Are there connected Chinese strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons (domains) of maritime, space, and cyberspace? If so, what are they and what could the United States do about them?

By Tuan N. Pham

Last November, I wrote an article titled “China’s Maritime Strategy on the Horizon” highlighting a fleeting strategic opportunity for Washington to shape and influence Beijing’s looming and evolving maritime strategy. I posited that Chinese maritime strategists have long called for a maritime strategy; China’s maritime activities are driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory” crucial for its national development, security, and status; and Beijing may be trying to fill domestic legal gaps that it sees as hindering its ability to defend territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS), and justify its growing activities in international waters. The latter point is underscored by recent media reports from Beijing considering the revision of its 1984 Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which would allow Chinese authorities to bar some foreign ships from passing through Chinese territorial waters. If passed, this will be another instance of China shaping domestic maritime laws to support its developing and evolving maritime strategy, and part of a larger continuing effort to set its own terms for international legal disputes that Beijing expects will grow as its maritime reach expands.

I then further suggested that Beijing’s forthcoming maritime strategy will shape its comportment and actions in the maritime domain in the near- and far-term, and perhaps extend into the other contested global commons of space and cyberspace as well. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explore this potential cross-domain nexus by examining the latest Chinese space white paper and cyberspace strategies. In Part 2, I will derive possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the interlinked global commons and discuss how the United States could best respond.   

China’s Space Activities in 2016 White Paper (December 2016)

“To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry, and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly.”

On December 27, 2016, China’s Information Office of the State Council published its fourth white paper on space titled “China’s Space Activities in 2016.” The paper and the preceding 2011, 2006, and 2000 papers largely follow a pattern of release, sequenced and synchronized with the governmental cycle of Five-Year Plans that are fundamental to Chinese centralized planning. Last year’s paper provides the customary summary of China’s space accomplishments over the past five years and a roadmap of key activities and milestones for the next five years.

Since the white paper was the first one issued under President Xi Jinping, it is not surprising that the purpose, vision, and principles therein are expressed in terms of his world view and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Therefore, one should read beyond the altruistic language and examine the paper through the realpolitik lens of the purpose and role of space to the Chinese Dream; the vision of space power as it relates to the Chinese Dream; and principles through which space will play a part in fulfilling the Chinese Dream. Notable areas to consider include Beijing’s intent to provide basic global positioning services to countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road in 2018; construction of the Belt and Road Initiative Space Information Corridor; strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation that serves the Belt and Road Initiative; and attaching the importance of space cooperation under the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) cooperation mechanism and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Although the white paper is largely framed in terms of China’s civilian space program, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is subtly present throughout the paper in the euphemism of “national security.” The three references in the purpose, vision, and major tasks deliberately understate (or obfuscate) Beijing’s strategic intent to use its rapidly growing space program (largely military space) to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power. In short, China’s space program does not have structures in place that make meaningful separation between military and civil programs, and those technologies and systems developed for supposedly civil purposes can also be applied–and often are–for military purposes.

The white paper highlights concerted efforts to examine extant international laws and develop accompanying national laws to better govern its expanding space program and better regulate its increasing space-related activities. Beijing intends to review, and where necessary, update treaties and reframe international legal principles to accommodate the ever-changing strategic, operational, and tactical landscapes. All in all, China wants to leverage the international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to advance its national interests in space without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of space power may prove more favorable.

China’s National Cyberspace Security Strategy (December 2016)

“China will devote itself to safeguarding the nation’s interests in sovereignty, security, and development in cyberspace.”

On the same day as the issuance of the “China’s Space Activities in 2016” white paper, the Cyberspace Administration of China also released Beijing’s first cyberspace strategy titled “National Cyberspace Security Strategy” to endorse China’s positions and proposals on cyberspace development and security and serve as a roadmap for future cyberspace security activity. The strategy aims to build China into a cyberspace power while promoting an orderly, secure, and open cyberspace, and more importantly, defending its national sovereignty in cyberspace.

The strategy interestingly characterizes cybersecurity as “the nation’s new territory for sovereignty;” highlights as one of its key principles “no infringement of sovereignty in cyberspace will be tolerated;” and states intent to “resolutely defend sovereignty in cyberspace” as a strategic task. All of which reaffirm Xi’s previous statement on the importance of cyberspace sovereignty. At last year’s World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Xi boldly exclaimed, “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyberspace development, model of cyberspace regulation and Internet public policies, and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing.”

Attendees listen to a speech by China’s President Xi Jinping shown on a screen during the opening ceremony of the third annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China November 16, 2016. (Reuters/Aly Song)

Both the space white paper and cyberspace security strategy reflect Xi’s world view and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream. The latter’s preamble calls out the strategy as an “important guarantee to realize the Two Centenaries struggle objective and realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Therefore, like the white paper, one should also read beyond the noble sentiments of global interests, global peace and development, and global security, and examine the strategy through the underlying context of the Chinese Dream. What is the purpose and role of cyberspace to national rejuvenation; the vision of cyberspace power as it relates to national rejuvenation; and through which principles will cyberspace play a role in fulfilling national rejuvenation? Promoting the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, raising the international telecommunications interconnection and interaction levels, paving a smooth Information Silk Road, and strengthening the construction of the Chinese online culture are some notable areas to consider.  

The role of the PLA is likewise carefully understated (or obfuscated) throughout the strategy in the euphemism of “national security.” The 13 references in the introduction, objectives, principles, and strategic tasks quietly underscore the PLA’s imperatives to protect itself (and the nation) against harmful cyberspace attacks and intrusions from state and non-state actors and to extend the law of armed conflict into cyberspace to manage increasing international competition – both of which acknowledge cyberspace as a battlespace that must be contested and defended.   

The strategy also puts high importance on international and domestic legal structures, standards, and norms. Beijing wants to leverage the existing international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to develop accompanying national laws to advance its national interests in cyberspace without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of cyberspace power may become more favorable.

China’s International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation (March 2017)

“Cyberspace is the common space of activities for mankind. The future of cyberspace should be in the hands of all countries. Countries should step up communications, broaden consensus and deepen cooperation to jointly build a community of shared future in cyberspace.”

On March 1, 2017, the Foreign Ministry and State Internet Information Office issued Beijing’s second cyberspace strategy titled “International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation.” The aim of the strategy is to build a community of shared future in cyberspace, notably one that is based on peace, sovereignty, shared governance, and shared benefits. The strategic goals of China’s participation in international cyberspace cooperation include safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security, and interests in cyberspace; securing the orderly flow of information on the Internet; improving global connectivity; maintaining peace, security, and stability in cyberspace; enhancing international rule of law in cyberspace; promoting the global development of the digital economy; and deepening cultural exchange and mutual learning.

The strategy builds on the previously released cyberspace security strategy and trumpets the familiar refrains of national rejuvenation (Chinese Dream); global interests, peace and development, and security; and development of national laws to advance China’s national interests in cyberspace. Special attention was again given to the contentious concept of cyberspace sovereignty in support of national security and social stability – “No country should pursue cyberspace hegemony, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, or engage in, condone or support cyberspace activities that undermine other countries’ national security.” The strategy also interestingly calls for the demilitarization of cyberspace just like the white paper does for space despite China’s growing offensive cyberspace and counterspace capabilities and capacities – “The tendency of militarization and deterrence buildup in cyberspace is not conducive to international security and strategic mutual trust – China always adheres to the principle of the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes the weaponization of or an arms race in outer space.” Incongruously, a paragraph after discouraging cyberspace militarization, the strategy states that China will “expedite the development of a cyber force and enhance capabilities in terms of situational awareness, cyber defense, supporting state activities, and participating in international cooperation, to prevent major cyber crises, safeguard cyberspace security, and maintain national security and social stability.”

Conclusion

This concludes the short discourse on the latest Chinese space white paper and cyberspace strategies and sets the conditions for further discussion. Part 2 examines possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace, and strategic opportunities for the United States. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is published in national security affairs. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: June 3, 2013. Assembly of the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and the Long March-2F carrier rocket at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province. (Xinhua/Liang Jie)