SINGAPORE — A Chinese general called for a ban on the weaponization of cyberspace, but said during a discussion at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday that such a ban wouldn’t likely be followed.
The comments from Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations, come following the U.S. Justice Department indictment of five Chinese Army officials for allegedly hacking several U.S. corporate networks.
“Human beings by nature would like to apply military operations in any newly found space where human activities become important,” Yao told a room of defense officials and analysts in Singapore, where delegates from about 40 nations have gathered for the weekend.
“Damage caused by cyberwar might exceed our imagination. Maybe such urgency can help us to build a consensus on the banning of war in cyberspace altogether, but personally, I’m not optimistic about it.”
In 2013, an Obama administration report accused China of cyberattacks on government networks and defense contractor computers, moves that could potentially outline U.S. “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”
Chinese officials dismissed the accusations as groundless in each case.
Part of the problem on agreeing to curbs in cyberattacks lies in the lack of overall bilateral trust between many nations, but most notably the U.S. and China, according to several officials gathered at the annual summit.
For example, the United States has repeatedly called on China to be more transparent about its defense spending. When Yao said China’s spending has been 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product, murmurs of disagreement filled the room.
China’s defense spending is believed to be distantly second in the world to the United States, but the totals and details remain murky.
The People’s Liberation Army’s extensive holdings in state-owned enterprise further blur the lines between the government’s economic and military goals, officials said. Case in point, the Justice Department cyberespionage indictment alleges that private Chinese firms hired out a Chinese Army cyberattack unit, which had been infecting U.S. corporate databases with viruses since 2006.
The U.S. military created the U.S. Cyber Command in 2009 under the U.S. Strategic Command to unify its cyberspace operations.