Cyber Defense

China's military calls for 'online Great Wall'

The Great Wall of China failed to protect its emperors.


While China builds up its military presence in the South China Sea at a pace that has alarmed the Pentagon, the country’s military newspaper is stressing the importance of the Internet as an ideological battleground against the West, calling for an “online Great Wall.”

The country’s online efforts are not about expanding its influence in the Pacific region or countering U.S. missile defenses by upgrading its long-range missiles with multiple nuclear warheads, according to China's military. Rather, the People's Liberation Army Daily proclaimed in a commentary this week, China must defend its "sovereignty" in cyberspace in its ideological battle with "Western anti-China forces," according to a Reuters report.

The PLA Daily may be concerned with cyber sovereignty, but China also is doing plenty to build up its military presence in the region. A CNN report details the massive build-up on manmade islands that China continues to expand—growing by 2,000 acres in the last two years—and an encounter the Chinese Navy has with a U.S. P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane.

A former CIA official, while acknowledging that a war would not be in the interests of either China or the United States, told CNN that the militarization of the islands “absolutely” raises the risk of war, at least as a possibility.

The military build-up runs parallel to China’s increasing efforts to control activities online. The PLA commentary backstops Communist Party ideology warning that loosening controls on the Internet could bring chaos to China and create an existential threat for the Communist Party.

"Western hostile forces, as well as a few 'ideological traitors' in our country, are using the Internet on their computers and mobile phones to viciously attack our party," Reuters quoted the PLA commentary as warning.

What is needed, China's military leaders argued, is an "online Great Wall" to block the spread of Western values that Beijing views as a direct threat to one-party rule and economic stability. China already maintains strict censorship of the Internet, including what westerners refer to as the Great Firewall that blocks access to anything critical of the Communist Party.

Cyberattacks earlier this year against GreatFire.org, which attempt to give people access to websites China blocks, also revealed that China has a powerful new cyber weapon, which analysts dubbed the Great Cannon.

The PLA called control of the Internet a "hidden war" for the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.

The latest effort to tighten controls on the Chinese Internet comes as Washington and Beijing trade accusations about the hacking of sensitive networks and installations. The U.S. has accused the Chinese military of hacking everything from Pentagon networks and military contractors to U.S. weather satellites and national security think tanks. One effort to infiltrate western think tanks and human rights groups last year was dubbed "Deep Panda."

For its part, Beijing counters that its computer networks are also under constant attack by U.S. hackers. These external cyber threats therefore strengthen the PLA's hand in the circumscribed debates over Internet freedom in China.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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