China’s cyber activity “informs” its “preparations for war” and it likely intends to launch destructive cyberattacks against the US in the event of conflict, the Pentagon warned on Tuesday.
The summary of the Defence Department’s 2023 Cyber Strategy, released on Tuesday, said that China is the “pacing challenge” of the US in cyberspace, and that it “routinely” conducts malicious cyber activity against the United States as well as its allies and partners.
China poses “a broad and pervasive cyber espionage threat”, the summary said. The full strategy, the Pentagon’s fourth cyber study, remains classified and was forwarded to Congress in May.
China and the US have traded accusations of conducting cyberattacks against each other for years, with Beijing calling Washington “the champion of hacking”.
According to the summary, China’s “theories of victory rest on the use of cyber means to degrade the combat capability of the joint force, as well as that of our allies and partners”. It added that China had undertaken significant military modernisation and reorganisation efforts in pursuit of this goal.
The US must build a “robust and integrated” cyber capability – one ready to respond rapidly across the spectrum of conflict, and to help “prepare to fight and win the nation’s wars,” according to the summary.
US officials have said that the US does not see an imminent threat of China invading the self-ruled island of Taiwan, but they have also warned that Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Liberation Army to develop capabilities to invade the island by 2027. The US is ambiguous over whether it would help defend Taiwan in such a conflict.
On Monday, US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the Air and Space Forces Association that China was building its military to prepare for a potential war with the US, and that the US must be ready for a “kind of war we have no modern experience with”.
According to the Pentagon’s strategy summary, “in the event of conflict, the PRC likely intends to launch destructive cyberattacks against the US homeland in order to hinder military mobilisation, sow chaos, and divert attention and resources”.
“It will also likely seek to disrupt key networks which enable joint force power projection in combat,” it said.
The summary reiterated the Pentagon’s position that China uses cyber tools to steal technological secrets and undermine the “defence industrial base” in an effort to erode US military advantage. It also said Beijing employs cyber tools in intrusion and surveillance efforts against individuals living outside the country, including US citizens.
Earlier this year, the tech giant Microsoft reported that a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group has been spying on a wide range of US critical infrastructure, and that the espionage had also targeted the US island territory of Guam, home to strategically important American military bases.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said she had been hacked by Chinese actors shortly before her trip to Beijing last month. She said she brought up the issue with her Chinese counterparts during her meetings there.
This year’s strategy also highlights efforts to build the capacity and capability with allies and partners in cyberspace.
“It has driven home the need to work closely with our allies, partners, and industry to make sure we have the right cyber capabilities, cybersecurity, and cyber resilience to help deter conflict, and to fight and win if deterrence fails,” John Plumb, the assistant defence secretary for space policy, said in a release on the Pentagon website.