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Cyber espionage is a practice of cyber-attack to access sensitive data and information about the activities and plans of the competitive company or government agencies for their monetary benefits. China becomes one of the emerging powers in cyberspace. The rise of information technology has created potential vulnerabilities and substantial opportunities for China. On the other hand, it also remains a victim of cyber-crime. Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized his objectives for China to emerge as the cyber superpower that focuses on the growth of information technology, infrastructure, and the contestation of leadership in next-generation information especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a core priority. The rise of cyberspace in China has presented an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through building a new space for the public. In response, China’s party-state has developed a comprehensive framework of policies, laws, and institutions intended to control online discourse. China’s activities for cyber espionage have increased progressively and presenting new threats to the Asia-Pacific region over the past two decades. In particular, China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has developed as an active player in cyberspace for operational security growth while enterprising a global campaign for cyber espionage to attain strategic, political, and economic purposes.

The digital economy campaign has emerged as an integral element of China’s policy to protect its future technological development. Indeed, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has underlined the significance of integrating the digital economy as an element of progress in his work reports of 2018 and 2019. Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent are China’s digital ‘national champions’ and established a prevalent position within China’s internet ecosystem through investment and for research and development, estimated the annual revenues at US$87.3 billion.

China’s strategy for the Digital Silk Road comprised of telecommunication, information technologies, and digital infrastructure for the projects of smart city and telecommunication throughout Asia and Africa to 5G pilots in Europe, estimated nearly 60 countries in late 2018 to provide benefits. China’s policy of military-civil synthesis reflects an emphasis on leveraging synergies between commercial and defense developments, whereas also trying to exploit the capabilities of civilians’ personnel for the sake of cyber and defense development.Chinese capabilities of cyberspace have been active cyber espionage of growing intricacy till now. China residues undeterred and unrestrained despite the repeated attempts by the Western forces to deter these activities through coercive diplomacy. An apparent reduction in the rate of Chinese cyber-espionage has been established with a shift in activity starting around mid-2014, and the threat has converted, not contracted. 

The US Trade Representative published a report in early 2018 under Section 301 of the US Trade Act that mentioned China’s strategies related to information technology transfer, intellectual property, and advancement. China had conducted industrial espionage to advance national objectives for economic development and military modernization by evolving industries like biotechnology, semiconductors, and aerospace.

The MSS has obtained large amounts of data through some serious breaches of systems of Western authorities and corporations. A breach of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), revealed in 2014, exposed the highly secret data of millions of US citizens that had been composed to process their security sanctions for positions in government. China’s Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) groups have continued to intensify their targeting of Taiwan. The APT groups try to steal data disrupt operations and destroy infrastructure. There were reports that in 2019, a Shanghai-based APT group had succeeded in stealing secret data from almost 3m files at the Taiwanese Department of Health, which had been besieged with secret information ex-filtrated in 2017.

China has contributed to a large number of projects, which reportedly estimated US$79bn worldwide, which has involved the equipment of telecommunications and infrastructure, fiber-optic cables, and smart-city initiatives for the development of the Digital Silk Road. This initiative may also help Beijing to promulgate its standards via a technological ecosystem. In reaction to the menace of China’s cyber activities, the regional states have sustained to strengthen their cyber defenses while discovering the offensive aptitudes to overcome this threat. The government of Japan’s strategies to establish a Cyber Defense Unit by 2023, envisioned to enhance cyber defense capabilities while reinforcing cooperation in cyberspace within the US-Japan alliance in its new defense policy. Taiwan is employing new talent for cyber warfare to upsurge its offensive as well as defensive capabilities. Vietnam also established the Task Force 47 Cyber Unit of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) to defend the government from conflict and conduct offensive operations.

To conclude, China has been referred to as an emerging cyber superpower and possesses military and economic capabilities that boosted its national power. At the same time, China endures to encounter potential vulnerabilities and challenges potential vulnerabilities in this domain, comprising the insecurity of its information-technology ecosystem that’s why; cyberspace is ambiguous for China which presents new jeopardies and critical benefits. As the digital economy of China emerges as a critical driver for the future, China’s emerging technologies, including secret data, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence could enable it to flourish in the development of the new industrial revolution. The emergence of China’s cyber capabilities through the Strategic Support Force will deliver the PLA with opportunities to dissuade, coerce or even achieve an advantage in a violent scenario as China continues to improve its armed forces. China could also use cyber power to achieve political and geopolitical goals in peacetime comprising through constant targeting of competitors petitioners in territorial violence in the East and South China seas. At the same time, China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) and a group of contractors endure establishing Chinese industrial and strategic espionage, proposing a degree of believable deniability. China’s cyber-espionage will have crucial implications for the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific and beyond in the future.

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Ms. Iram Zahid is working as a Research Assistant with National Institute of Maritime Affairs, NIMA,Bahria Univeristy, Islamabad. She has done her Master’s in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.

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Ms. Iram Zahid is working as a Research Assistant with National Institute of Maritime Affairs, NIMA,Bahria Univeristy, Islamabad. She has done her Master’s in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.

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