Wednesday, January 21, 2015

China in spotlight over stealing US military secrets

China has strenuously denied it stole the designs for America's next generation fighter jet in the latest spat over cyberattacks for which it is often blamed.

"Groundless" accusations

China angrily refuted the allegations it had stolen US military secrets this week. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing was responding to the publication by German magazine Der Spiegel of new documents purportedly from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The ministry's spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters Monday, that he wondered if his country's accusers could produce any evidence to support their claims and said the accusations were "groundless" [FMPRC].

"Cyber attacks are hard to trace back and are usually committed across borders. This complexity means that it is extremely difficult to identify the source of the attacks," Hong said.

According to one document published by Der Spiegel, China stole "many terabytes of data" related to the United States F-35 fighter jet, including detailed engine schematics and radar design [CNN].

No comment from US

Whilst it was hardly unusual for China to refute allegations that it hacked US military computers to gain access to classified data, the US would neither confirm nor deny the allegations.

A Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren declined on Tuesday [20/01/2015] to discuss whether the Chinese had been able to obtain US military technology secrets.

"We never talk about cyber-intrusions and we don't comment on leaked information," he said [Washington Times].

China's latest statements on the Snowden leaks are a U-turn on previous communiques. Edward Snowden had become a cause célèbre in China, particularly for exposing the widespread NSA. spying program, Prism, in 2013.

Praised by state media as "a bright idealistic young man", Snowden offered China the opportunity, enthusiastically seized upon, to expose what it saw as American hypocrisy over cyberespionage [Xinhua].

Indeed many Chinese officials had used the Snowden revelations as a defensive retort when American officials pressed China to end state-sponsored hacking.

But Beijing has not been so quick to embrace the latest batch of leaked NSA materials [NYT]. In fact there is scant mention of Edward Snowden or the F-35 fighter jet in Chinese state media at all.

Previous allegations

It is not the first time China has been accused of stealing US stealth jet technology.

In 2011 experts claimed China had stolen stealth fighter technology by smuggling parts of a downed F117 Nighthawk out of Serbia during the Balkans War [tvnewswatch: China stole stealth fighter technology]

The United States Air Force retired the F-117 on 22 April 2008, primarily due to the fielding of the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.

But there are fears amongst some military personnel  that China's new Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter, that made its debut at the Zhuhai international airshow in December last year, could eventually become more than a match for American stealth fighters in battle [USNI].

The J-31 is China's latest stealth fighter and replaces the J-20 which itself was believed to have incorporated stolen US technology [Guardian / tvnewswatch: Chinas stealth fighter takes to air].

Growing military spend

As well as stealing technology, China is ploughing millions of dollars into its military year on year [tvnewswatch: China increase military to "win local wars"].

Whilst accusing the US of "warmongering" and interfering in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, China could also be criticised for its own aggressive stance in the region [tvnewswatch: China plays with fire as year of dragon looms]

Indeed the balance of military spending was by February 2014 tipping towards China [BBC].

Figures published by the IISS last year indicated that whilst the United States still topped the list with a military spend of $600 billion in 2013, China ranked second with a spending budget of some $112 billion.

However given the opaque nature of Chinese financial matters, there are complex debates about how far Beijing's figures encompass all of its defence-related spending. Indeed China's real military budget could be much higher than generally agreed.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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