HALIFAX — The head of US Cyber Command said China is as vulnerable to cyber attacks as any other nation, offering a veiled suggestion that further malicious hacks by the Chinese could result in reprisals in the cyber realm.
Speaking Saturday at the Halifax Security Forum, National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, who also heads US Cyber Command, hinted that China might find itself the target of unwelcome cyber intrusions.
"To my Chinese counterparts, I would remind them, increasingly you are as vulnerable as any other major industrialized nation state. The idea that you can somehow exist outside the broader global cyber challenges I don't think is workable," Rogers said.
China uses state capabilities to hack private companies and steal intellectual property, then shares the stolen information with Chinese companies, something the US doesn't do, he said. As head of the NSA, Rogers tries to learn what he can about foreign capabilities, but he doesn't turn around and share them with Boeing or Lockheed Martin, he said.
"None of us wants behavior on either side that ends up accelerating or precipitating a crisis. That's in no one's interests," he said.
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, also served notice that the US will continue its decades-long practice of navigating international waters, even as China continues to build what he termed its "Great Wall of Sand" on artificial islands in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
"We will not simply agree to disagree with destabilizing actions taken by China. That's why the United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere international law allows. The South China Sea is not and will not be an exception," Harris said.
"There is one global standard for freedom of navigation, not a double standard where China can fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows while other nations cannot. International seas and airspace belong to everyone, and not the dominion of any single nation."
The US has routinely navigated international waters for decades, so the practice should not come as a surprise, he said.
The relative peace and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region over the last 70 years has produced some of the world's largest economies, even in a region that has seven of the world's 10 largest armies, he said.
The Philippines has filed a legal objection to China’s activities in the South China Sea, noted Antonio Carpio, a justice on the Supreme Court of the Philippines. Militarily, the Philippines is are no match for China, so it brought the dispute to a forum where armaments don’t count, he said.
"We cannot live with a dispute where China claims everything," he said.
How China responds to the tribunal’s decision will show its commitment – or lack thereof – to its commitment to peace and security, Harris said.
In the meantime, US commanders are working with Chinese commanders to ensure any contact at in sea and in air does do not escalate, or result in a military mishap, he said.
"American and Chinese commanders have a responsibility to ensure frictions points in policy don't become friction points in the sea and air," he said.
Harris does not believe that conflict with China is inevitable, he said. The two countries have cooperated on several regional security issues, including medical efforts to prevent pandemics, peaceful denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula, and fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa and in the Straits of Malacca.
Looking ahead, the two countries will need to coexist in the shared domains of air, sea, outer space and cyberspace, he said.
"These spaces enable the free flow of goods, services, thoughts and ideas. They are the connective tissue that holds together the global economy and more importantly civil society," Harris said. "Access to shared thoroughfares is at risk due to increasing competition, and unfortunately, the provocative actions of nations like China."