The US and China have quietly conducted a series of “war games” to help prevent an abrupt military escalation between Washington and Beijing that could be sparked by hostile actions in cyberspace.
According to The Guardian, the exercises have provided Washington with a venue to voice its frustration over state-sponsored espionage and industrial theft. However, Beijing has reportedly remained “belligerent” over such charges.
“China has come to the conclusion that the power relationship has changed, and it has changed in a way that favors them,” explained Jim Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is very hostile. They see the US as a target. They feel they have justification for their actions. They think the US is in decline.”
According to Lewis, the war games were organized under the auspices of both the CSIS and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations – and have allowed government officials from both sides to maintain contact in a less formal and fractious environment.
“The officials start out as observers and become participants… It is very much the same on the Chinese side. Because it is organized between two think-tanks they can speak more freely,” said Lewis.
“The Chinese are very astute. They send knowledgeable people. We want to find ways to change their behavior … [but] they can justify what they are doing. Their attitude is, they have experienced imperialism and they had a century of humiliation.”
Indeed, says Lewis, Beijing has a sense that it has been treated unfairly over the years by the West.
“The Chinese have a deep distrust of the US. They are concerned about US military capabilities. They tend to think we have a grand strategy to preserve US hegemony and they see a direct challenge,” he acknowledged.
“The [Chinese officials] who favor co-operation are not as strong as the people who favor conflict.”
Lewis also noted that the CSIS was attempting to better gauge each side’s position, as US and Chinese forces remain in close physical proximity to each other.
“Of the countries actively involved in cyber espionage, China is the only one likely to be a military competitor to the US,” he added.