US and Chinese officials have been “discreetly engaging” in cyber war games in a bid to prevent military escalation between the two countries if either felt they were being targeted, a media report said Monday.
Officials from the State Department and Pentagon, along with their Chinese counterparts, were involved in two war games in 2011 that were designed to help prevent a sudden military escalation. Another session is being planned for May, the Guardian reported.
Known as “Track 1.5” diplomacy, the war games have been organised through Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a Beijing think-tank, the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
This has allowed government officials, and those from US intelligence agencies, to have contact in a “less formal environment”, the daily said.
“China has come to the conclusion that the power relationship has changed, and it has changed in a way that favours them,” said CSIS director Jim Lewis.
“The PLA (China’s 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,” he said.
“We co-ordinate the war games with the state department and department of defence,” said Lewis, who brokered the meetings that took place in Beijing in June, and in Washington in December 2011.
During the first exercise, both countries had to describe what they would do if they were attacked by a sophisticated computer virus like Stuxnet, which had disabled centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear programme.
In the second, they had to describe their reaction if the attack was known to have been launched from the other side.
“The Chinese are very astute. They send knowledgeable people. We want to find ways to change their behaviour… they can justify what they are doing. Their attitude is, they have experienced imperialism and they had a century of humiliation,” Lewis said.
“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 said.
“Of the countries actively involved in cyber espionage, China is the only one likely to be a military competitor to the US,” said the think-tank official.
Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI’s cyber unit, said the threats posed from cyber attacks were alarming.
“We know that the capabilities of foreign states are substantial and we know the type of information that they are targeting,” he said.
The State Department has refused to speak about the war games.
“The US is committed to engaging countries to build a global environment in which all states recognise and adhere to norms of acceptable behaviour in cyberspace. We are engaging broadly with the Chinese government on cyber issues so that we can find common ground on these issues which have increasing importance in our bilateral relationship,” a State Department spokesman was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
The Pentagon also declined to comment.
China has also denied being responsible for cyber attacks on the US and other western countries. It maintains it was also a victim of espionage.
Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie said Beijing “stands firmly against all kinds of cyber crimes”.