China’s reaction to Google’s hacking accusations

After my last post about People’s Daily, at least one reader asked me via email why I bother posting about articles in the Chinese media that rail against the West, since they are so consistently preposterous. And the reader has a point. These columns from People’s Daily and Global Times and China Daily tend to repeat the same tiresome theme, namely that the West is determined to make China look bad, to undermine the CCP, to somehow harm China. These memes become ingrained in the Chinese psyche (not across the board, of course) and are echoed in countless blog posts and comments and message boards. I know entire blogs (or at least one) that seem to focus solely on this theme of China’s victimization.

So why bother? First of all, being a media junkie I find the explosive responses infinitely fascinating, I admit. More importantly, I believe contemporary China can’t really be understood without having insight into this phenomenon, without understanding the raw sensitivities of so many Chinese people (especially the young). I had to deal with this mentality on a daily basis when I was living in China. My young colleagues truly believed Anti-CNN was gospel, and that the US media, in partnership with the US government, actively conspired to defame China and make it look atrocious, with the ultimate goal of stymieing China’s growth and keeping it weak and under the control of its former imperialist masters. This sentiment is real.

Which is all a long way to build up to today’s atrocity from People’s Daily, highlighted in a most interesting piece in the NY Times. Looking at it today, I saw another reason why documenting these stories is important: they reflect a growing hostility and brazenness that has deep implications for China’s future relations with the West.

You all know by now about Google’s new charges against alleged Chinese hackers breaking into gmail accounts of activists, foreign officials and other high-profile users. People’s Daily, in a front-page editorial under the headline, “Google, What Do You Want?” responded with savagery:

“Many international bystanders believe that Google’s charge is thickly tainted with political colors, and one can’t dismiss the fact that Google is taking advantage and provoking new Sino-American Internet security disputes with sinister intentions. Today’s Google really makes one wring one’s hands. What was once a model of leading Internet innovation has now become a political tool for slandering other countries.”

….Once the international winds change, Google might become a political sacrifice and might be discarded by the market.”

[I'd love to ask them who those "many international bystanders" are. I can only think of only one who might step forward to hump the CCP's leg.]

Needless to say, revenge against Google was swift.

In the days after Google’s latest accusation, Chinese users of Gmail and the popular Google Maps service have seen connections slow to a crawl, while the same services accessed over private networks have remained trouble-free.

Chinese officials have attributed Google’s service problems to technical issues that do not involve the government, and they have denied any government role in hacking Google computers or e-mail accounts.

Google had little to gain by making these accusations. It has already seen its market share trounced by Baidu, especially since its accusations against Chinese hackers last year, and I think they’ve been resigned for a long time to being number two (or lower) when it comes to Chinese search. As the NYT article says, however, they’re making their profits in China from advertising, with revenues growing year over year and a staff of 500. I see no reason why Google would make these accusations if they weren’t fairly certain they were true. At this point, what’s in it for them? Was the Chinese government behind the attacks? I don’t think anyone can say for sure, but there is certainly plenty of circumstantial evidence (just look at the list of those who’ve had their gmail accounts hacked).

As one Washington Post commentator maintained today, this is actually a non-story. Everyone knows what Chinese hackers are up to:

The big surprise: This story made front-page news.

Hackers in China, who most security experts believe work for the Chinese government, have been whacking away at Gmail accounts of Chinese citizens for years and have previously hacked into accounts of prominent U.S. journalists and businesspeople working in the Middle Kingdom

It’s pretty much an open secret. Every correspondent in China knows it. And yet whenever it’s brought to light the Chinese media goes into paroxysms of rage and finger-pointing, to the extent of accusing Google of trying to sabotage US-Chinese relations. This is what amazes me and is why I bother to write this sort of thing up: it’s the sheer vitriol of China’s reaction, dripping with veiled threats, and their need to put this on the front page of their newspapers. The lady doth protest far too much, methinks.

This post is a bit all over the place, but I think you get my point.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 37 Comments

“The lady doth protest far too much, methinks.” About sums it up…

This article popped up as I was reading another NYT article, a year ago I would have read it. Now? Just thought to myself “Surprise, surprise…”

But you are right that it is fascinating what new types of vitriol they can come up with, “….Once the international winds change, Google might become a political sacrifice and might be discarded by the market.” This statement is interesting in that the same opinion makers that went to all ends to point out that China wasn’t “rising” as fast as everyone was saying after they surpassed Japan, now seems completely self-assured that China will one day be in a position to force a political “sacrifice” of Google. The wording and resulting imagery is hilarious (if not worrisome, that the so called “peaceful rising” China still promotes such violence in speech…)

June 7, 2011 @ 11:21 am | Comment

I read too much of the People’s Daily as well, with the same kind of fascination. Does anyone outside of China really believe this crap? What’s in it for Google? I don’t see angering China and admitting security breeches as a good for business.
Talking with my Chinese co-workers I get the feeling that for every person taking anti-cnn as gospel there are dozens trying to find a way to get around the Great Firewall.

June 7, 2011 @ 11:24 am | Comment

Great stuff, Richard.

It’s the parodoxical law of Chinese denial: the louder the protestations of innocence and feigned grievance, the closer the accusation is to the truth.

June 7, 2011 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Talking with my Chinese co-workers I get the feeling that for every person taking anti-cnn as gospel there are dozens trying to find a way to get around the Great Firewall.

Tom, that’s an interesting paradox — even those who believe with all their hearts in Anti-CNN are trying to find away around the GFW. But it’s something they won’t blame their government for, as they realize it’s all in the name of a harmonious society.

June 7, 2011 @ 11:52 am | Comment

Google Plays The China Card — A Diversion From The Cyber-Threat by Peter S. Goodman
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/02/google-china-gmail-hack_n_870612.html

Even Peter Foster calling foul on Google http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peterfoster/100090371/is-google-an-agent-of-the-us-government-it-certainly-gives-that-impression/

June 7, 2011 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

One more: Cyberwar: When We Do It, It’s OK; If They Do It, It’s War
Robert Dreyfuss : http://www.thenation.com/blog/161095/cyberwar-when-we-do-it-its-ok-if-they-do-it-its-war

June 7, 2011 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

Jason, thakns for that link from the Telegraph, which seems to confirm it was a government-sponsored attack:

When I spoke to [Michael] Anti, I was also curious as to why, if this was a government attack (as he agreed it appeared to be) it was so clumsy and unsophisticated. This attack was nothing like the “highly sophisticated” hit on Google’s deep infrastructure in January last year that experts say was the work of high-end programmers.

So, why risk the international embarrassment when no doubt China’s cyber-warfare units – presumably like the American ones – must have all manner of sophisticated spy-bots, malware and other gizmos at their disposal to ferret out information in a clandestine manner?

“Ah, that’s easy,” said Anti with a broad smile, “the reason is that they [China’s security agencies] don’t give a sh*t what the world thinks. That’s someone else’s problem.”

Just as I suspected.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:21 pm | Comment

Foster wonders why Google is making the case public, as there will be no “mole” from inside Chinese government workings that will confirm government involvement.

But both Foster and Michael Anti believe that it was indeed a government-backed attack:

Quote:
So, why risk the international embarrassment [that would come with an unsophisticated attack] when no doubt China’s cyber-warfare units – presumably like the American ones – must have all manner of sophisticated spy-bots, malware and other gizmos at their disposal to ferret out information in a clandestine manner?

“Ah, that’s easy,” said Anti with a broad smile, “the reason is that they [China’s security agencies] don’t give a sh*t what the world thinks. That’s someone else’s problem.”

Sometimes you have to feel pity for China’s diplomatic corps.
Unquote.

That’s not calling foul on Google.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:22 pm | Comment

And your link from the Nation is irrelevant, with no mention of Google. It’s about the hypocrisy of the US declaring cyberwarfare and actual act of war, while the US does it itself. Not defensible, but not related to the Chinese hackers and Google.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

Just Recently, our two comments crossed — great minds think alike! Jason really embarrassed himself this time.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

Google is certainly not prepared to discuss its safety issues upfront. But I think a lot would be gained if more, or all foreign companies who face difficulties in China or with China would speak up – even if that may spell some embarrassment for them in the short run.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

I guess Jason tried to make the best possible use of what he could get, Richard.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

Good luck with that. China has them all by the cojones. There is so much they should (and want to) speak up against, but the very idea of losing China market share scares the MNCs shitless.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

I guess Jason tried to make the best possible use of what he could get, Richard.

The irony here is I’ll bet the farm Jason found all those links using Google.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

@And your link from the Nation is irrelevant, with no mention of Google. It’s about the hypocrisy of the US declaring cyberwarfare and actual act of war, while the US does it itself. Not defensible, but not related to the Chinese hackers and Google.

Actually it is relevant and it is related to Google via the New York link. It’s about cyberattack performed by the United States and the way of their thinking that their own cyberattack won’t warrant an investigation and a cyberattack from another country would regardless how big or small the cyberattack would be.

@@ justrecently and Richard

Their whole argument is that Why did Google not provide countless of other phishing incidents from other countries but directly focus on China? Peter Foster and Michael Anti justifies the politicking of Google.

June 7, 2011 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

“It’s the parodoxical law of Chinese denial: the louder the protestations of innocence and feigned grievance, the closer the accusation is to the truth.”

Indeed – and this time wasn’t Google even careful enough to say merely that they had traced the intrusion to Jilin, without actually accusing the government directly? It seems to be media and observers – and the Chinese gov’t protestations of innocence – that suggest the government may be behind it.

June 7, 2011 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

This again confirms at least two things when it comes to folks like Jason. First, “western media” is terribly bad, unless they say something that these folks like to hear, in which case HuffPost and the Daily Telegraph can be freely and liberally quoted.

Second, it appears that folks like Jason read the title, but at best only skim the text of the article itself. And in particular, the text of Foster’s article is nothing like the tone of what the copy editor chose as the tagline. This would not be the first time that these guys have a wet dream over a title when the body of the article does not measure up as they would’ve hoped…and they don’t realize it because they likely didn’t even read the article itself. And of course, based on #15, even if Jason read the article, he still wouldn’t get it, because he seems to have a unique method of comprehending the English language that does not conform to standard linguistic norms.

The Huff makes a good point. If people are contemplating putting their stuff on a cloud, they need to be comfortable with the security of that cloud. If Google is banking on marketing their version of the cloud, they need people to have confidence in Google. But who is the weakest link in cloud security: Google, or the users who fall for phishing scams? Sure, they singled out CHina. Their alternative would have been for them to say: to our dearly beloved users, please do not be such incredibly dumb idiots to give out your gmail passwords. The latter message probably would not have been as well received. Sure, phishing is everywhere. But this time Google users took the bait, and Google users got compromised, which is why Google took an active interest in it.

It’s well said by Richard that “the lady doth protest too much”. Must be the CCP’s guilty conscience or something. Google only said they suspect the attack originated from China. Why would the CCP assume that they were being accused? But alas, shooting themselves in the foot is a CCP specialty.

June 7, 2011 @ 3:09 pm | Comment

The vitriolic response is in part aimed at scaring off other foreign companies from revealing that they too have been hacked from China. In the last year, reports of Chinese hacking have come from a very broad spectrum of countries and organisations, from India to Canada and including politicians, government agencies, banks, NGOs and mining companies. Few people have commented on the sheer scale of hacking, and the obvious conclusion that this is not just state-sanctioned, but planned and co-ordinated. I think this is in part because of different perception of the internet within the Party. It is seen as a new and critical front in a worldwide battle for economic and political supremacy. The hacking of foreign individuals, organisations and sites and is just as well funded and organised as China’s massive efforts to quarantine its citizens behind a harmonised Golden Shield. This is not just a few state-sponsored geeks at a college in Jinan, nor is it just some cyber-warfare offshoot section of the PLA. It is a comprehensive, well-resourced and intricate system of cyber-infiltration and disruption that has the advantage of being relatively cheap, risk free while delivering some major results.
The vitriolic response to being exposed may be due to several factors: loss of face, a belief in ‘the best form of defence is attack’ and the growing confidence/aggressiveness of a newly rich and powerful China. And with so many companies and countries hoping to curry favour with China, you can bet that they don’t want to be triggering a similar vitriolic response by revealing that they too have been hacked.

June 7, 2011 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

a belief in ‘the best form of defence is attack’
Now let’s wait for Baidu‘s complaints, Mick. ;-)

June 7, 2011 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

Chinese even hack people and groups who do largely pro-China activities.

And the laughable-yet-scarily-toxic paranoid world view that the PRC has inculcated leads it down some real blind alleys. One think tank tech officer I talked to last week said Chinese hackers have consistently penetrated green NGOs to look for “proof” that global warming is a U.S. hoax designed mainly to keep China’s economy from growing. I kid you not.

What will it take to deprogram a billion people? Can we start with Jason?

June 7, 2011 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

@ S.K. Cheung

“Google only said they suspect the attack originated from China. Why would the CCP assume that they were being accused?”

While it is true that Google did not make any direct accusation, all initial reportings of the attack heavily implied that it was unlikely to be anything but state sponsored.

June 8, 2011 @ 1:45 am | Comment

“all initial reportings of the attack heavily implied that it was unlikely to be anything but state sponsored.”
—Google can only control what they say. They can’t control how people “reported” it. They didn’t say it was the CCP. Some reporters/columnists may have implied it. And the CCP certainly inferred it. You would then have to look at the motivations of those reporters/columnists for making such implications. And you would have to consider the possibility of the CCP having a guilty conscience for making such inferences.

June 8, 2011 @ 4:56 am | Comment

Why bother writing about it?
* Because what seems obviously preposterous to some readers might not be to others. There are plenty of people who could use a wake-up call that the Chinese media is all state propaganda.
* Just because something’s crappy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick on it. It always kills me how China bloggers will go on and on about one mistake or badly written sentence in some major international media, while their own domestic media is filled with horrible mistakes all the time. Why the double standard?
* Most importantly, because it’s pretty darned amusing. We’re not quite back at the “capitalist running dogs”-type rhetoric of decades ago, but some of it is getting close. One of my favorite statements from Foreign Ministry is “The Internet is free” in China.

There’s nothing we can do about state propaganda, so we might as well get our laughs where we can.

June 8, 2011 @ 5:40 am | Comment

@And of course, based on #15, even if Jason read the article, he still wouldn’t get it, because he seems to have a unique method of comprehending the English language that does not conform to standard linguistic norms.

Should I pour some whine on your glass? I understand clearly of what Foster and Anti says. Since you can’t seem to connect the dots of what I said and WHY I choose the three articles, why don’t your save your hands on something productive?

June 8, 2011 @ 5:56 am | Comment

“Should I pour some whine on your glass?”
—umm, whatever you’re pouring should go INTO my glass, not ON it. But you should continue to use your “English” in the way you see fit, cuz it’s rather amusing.

Now, if you actually understood Foster and Anti’s point, you’ll realize that it can be summed up like this: “we’ll never know”. Hopefully, you would have realized that any opinions expressed in those 3 links of yours should be tempered by that sentiment. But with you, one can never be sure.

BTW, you didn’t have 3 articles. You had 2, and a blog post by Dreyfuss. He’s entitled to his opinion, of course. Like I said, it always amuses me when you guys traipse out opinions that you agree with, all-the-while labeling as “biased” the opinions that you don’t. Really rather priceless.

If pointing out your logic deficiencies constitutes “whining”, well, alrighty then, I guess I’ll have to keep on “whining”, your deficiencies of logic being as severe and as ubiquitous as they are.

June 8, 2011 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

@Joyce – My favourite unintentionally funny statement from a CCP representative:

‘Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the
Internet. In fact, it is just the opposite

June 8, 2011 @ 2:18 pm | Comment

Google indeed took care to say “originated in China” and left it at that.

But cyber-security experts were quick to ask “can you think of any entity besides the PRC government that pays serious attention to Tibetan exiles, FLG and dissidents?”

June 8, 2011 @ 8:09 pm | Comment

@funny statement from a CCP representative.
“What a wonderful time we would have if there were no this Internet thing!” an official from Shaaxi province once said. To him and many many other officials, the Web is indeed an opened Pandora’s box. To others, however, the Internet is like “God’s gift” to the Chinese people.

June 8, 2011 @ 10:36 pm | Comment

To Slim:
““can you think of any entity besides the PRC government that pays serious attention to Tibetan exiles, FLG and dissidents?””
—this would be a great question to ask one of our resident CCP apologists like Jason. And if it is all unfounded conjecture, then we might ask him, as Richard did, why the CCP chooses to protest so much.

June 9, 2011 @ 1:14 am | Comment

@ S.K. Cheung

“Some reporters/columnists may have implied it. And the CCP certainly inferred it.”

Some reporters may have even put the question directly to the CCP, hence their response.

I just don’t think this is the great “gotcha” moment that people think it is, imagine if the CCP gave no comment on the matter despite its high profile coverage in the media, would that not also be interpreted as an admission of guilt?

June 9, 2011 @ 2:10 am | Comment

To TTO:
I imagine quite a few people believe the CCP was in fact behind it. As Slim asks, who else within China had an interest in targeting the cross-section of people who were hacked? But there is no proof, which is probably why Google didn’t make any such accusation. However, a lack of proof that the CCP did it, is NOT the same as proof that the CCP didn’t do it.

If the CCP said nothing and ignored it, people might think it was involved. But the CCP went ballistic. People still might think it was involved, and also wonder why the CCP would be puffing smoke if there was no fire.

June 9, 2011 @ 2:56 am | Comment

The harassment and hacking of dissidents and Tibetans is to be expected and is not new. Nor is that of journalists.

What is annoying and alarming folks in the US is the pervasive and widespread attacks on e-mail accounts on everyone who deals with China in business, think tanks, lobby groups, non-profits….

Having dealings with China is the common denominator of every known victim in this latest spate of attacks and the target is info and names — unlike the Russian and Nigerian schemes that only want cash.

June 9, 2011 @ 4:01 am | Comment

[...] when I visited China a few weeks ago and waited and waited for my email to show up. But now, after Google’s complaints of new China-based hack attacks, it’s gotten even slower, if that’s possible. And they’re messing with your VPNs, [...]

June 10, 2011 @ 3:28 am | Pingback

@you’ll realize that it can be summed up like this: “we’ll never know”.

We’ll never know who did it, is not their main and core arguments. If you actually look at OP of gloating over where is the proof of “Many international bystanders” [who] “believe that Google’s charge is thickly tainted with political colors,” you can see that the three links is indeed highlighting Google politicking against China.

http://venturebeat.com/2011/06/02/google-china-phishing-scare/

June 11, 2011 @ 4:17 am | Comment

“gloating over where is the proof of “Many international bystanders” [who] “believe that Google’s charge is thickly tainted with political colors,” you can see that the three links is indeed highlighting Google politicking against China.”
—ummm, listen, I know your English skills are quite rudimentary, which prevents you from properly understanding what you read. But you do realize that those three links you provided amount to the OPINIONS of 3 people, right? And in case it wasn’t abundantly clear to you yet, someone’s opinion is NOT proof. Not to mention that Foster’s own point is that there would be no proof, unless you had moles embedded on both sides. Hence his own observation that “we’ll never know”. I can see two possibilities here: either the person who taught you English (and logic) did not do a very good job; or you’re not a very able student.

June 11, 2011 @ 7:55 am | Comment

SKC. Hey, stop victimising young Jason, and blame it on that Crazy English learning method.

June 11, 2011 @ 8:02 am | Comment

To #34:
BTW, I have to ask cuz it’s never safe to assume it with you people, but did you read your own link from Venture Beat? If you did, perhaps you noticed the very last sentence, which starts with “for now, we just don’t know”.

So thus far, you have shown us four (4) opinions of people who, to varying degrees, “don’t know” what to believe. If you think this absolute landslide of opinion justifies the People’s Daily article, well, that’s what makes the People’s Daily the People’s Daily, and that’s what makes you…you.

June 11, 2011 @ 1:41 pm | Comment

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