China to reap harvest of NSA scandals

The best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans, next is to attack alliances.Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A growing chorus of nations is decrying Washington’s unrestrained cyber espionage. However, there is only one country with both the means and motivation for using mounting international resentment to challenge American hegemony. The NSA surveillance of America’s allies has opened up two vital fronts in which China can erode American global dominance.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has claimed the rhetorical high ground, calling cyber security “a matter of sovereignty”. She said Beijing is eager to address the issue through the framework of the United Nations, and to do so “China and Russia have submitted a draft plan, in an effort to help the world jointly tackle the problem.” [1]

Germany and Brazil are working together to create a UN resolution aimed at curtailing electronic spying. Both nations have been openly angry with Washington in the wake of revelations that the NSA has for years spied on the personal communications of both Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Merkel.

Brazilian and German diplomats expect to finish the draft within a week, and then send the resolution to the UN Human Rights Committee. According to political scientist Gunther Maihold, “Brazil’s main interest is that this should result in international regulation by the UN.” [2]

Such international regulation of electronic espionage would be anathema to large portions of the American political class, who believe unlimited NSA spying is justified by the perpetual threat of “terrorism”, and are distrustful of the United Nations.

Beijing may be supporting anti-cyber espionage efforts at the United Nations precisely because China’s leaders expect such efforts will fail in the face of American political intransigence. The fallout from Washington blocking anti-surveillance initiatives at the United Nations could disrupt American diplomacy for decades to come.

Chinese backing of UN efforts to curb the NSA’s activities may undermine American hegemony by disrupting America’s alliances. These alliances have cemented Washington’s global dominance for the greater part of a century.

The second front in which Beijing can make advances against Washington is in the sphere of international public opinion. American leaders have long espoused an image of America as a uniquely ethical nation, a “city upon a hill”, an ideal moral power which lesser, more barbaric and grossly self-interested countries should emulate.

The practice of secretly monitoring tens of millions of phone calls of one’s allies – including the communications of some of America’s closest friends – has severely tarnished this image. China’s official media is now capitalizing on this development. On Wednesday, the top story on the China Daily website was entitled “Spy scandal ‘will weaken’ US global credibility”.

Chinese-language media was even more vociferous. State-run CCTV Four featured Zhang Zhaozhong, a well-known military commentator, as saying: “Now the United States, if they wish to return to democratic freedom and human rights, should apologize to the entire world, saying: I am sorry, we designed some software like this, we have this type of back door, in the future we will manage it seriously…” [4]

China is eager to remind domestic and international audiences of official American hypocrisy, now that such hypocrisy has been exposed on a global scale.

Morality – or rather, the perception of morality – plays a significant role in America’s foreign policy objectives. The United States, for all its flaws, has garnered admirers and supporters all around the world for the open, democratic ideals it disseminates.

In contrast, Chinese foreign policy has had little relation to ideology for the past several decades. Beijing cements its relationships with foreign countries around mutual self-interest, usually of the economic kind.

Beijing stands to benefit from emphasizing America’s self-induced loss of moral standing. In the wake of Guantanamo Bay and the Iraq war, Washington cannot afford a further loss of integrity. If the United States is increasingly perceived to an amoral and hypocritical power, then Chinese policies of practical economic benefits and political non-interference may be increasingly attractive.

It is worth pointing out that China is Brazil’s largest trading partner, and bilateral trade between China and Germany is more valuable than trade between Germany and the US.

Full article: China to reap harvest of NSA scandals (Asia Times Online)

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