China’s Trojan roads and information highways

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It would help greatly if more people conceptualised the relations between China and the Western world as a kind of a cold war.

Of course, God forbid that it should ever turn hot; but the conscious containment of a cold variety is precisely there to prevent a major outbreak of violence down the track, while preventing the antagonist from getting into a position of dominance and at the same time waiting them out to see an internal change or collapse without a world war.

China is not our friend. It’s a vast country on the brink of superpowerdom, which is run as a dictatorship by the now somewhat misnamed Communist Party. Its political system and ideology are hostile to Western-style liberal democracy and compete with it in any number of different spheres and across different geographic locations – not to mention with any means necessary. All this does not mean that we shouldn’t be polite and reasonable in our dealings with China and her masters, trade and collaborate when and where possible, and try to peacefully manage any problems and clashes of interests, but by the same token we should not pretend that China is a normal country, like France, Japan or Mexico, and so are our relations and interactions with it.

Case in point:

China Telecom, the large international communications carrier with close ties to the Chinese government, misdirected big chunks of Internet traffic through a roundabout path that threatened the security and integrity of data passing between various providers’ backbones for two and a half years, a security expert said Monday. It remained unclear if the highly circuitous paths were intentional hijackings of the Internet’s Border Gateway Protocol or were caused by accidental mishandling.

For almost a week late last year, the improper routing caused some US domestic Internet communications to be diverted to mainland China before reaching their intended destination, Doug Madory, a researcher specializing in the security of the Internet’s global BGP routing system, told Ars. As the following traceroute from December 3, 2017 shows, traffic originating in Los Angeles first passed through a China Telecom facility in Hangzhou, China, before reaching its final stop in Washington, DC. The problematic route, which is visualized in the graphic above, was the result of China Telecom inserting itself into the inbound path of Verizon Asian Pacific.

“Accidental mishandling” does not go on for two and a half years. Whether it started as an “intentional hijacking” or (as the article’s title has it) a “strange snafu”, if you believe that the Chinese did not realise it was happening, and once they did that the Chinese security services did not take an advantage of the situation, I have a bridge to sell you (the longest bridge in the world, actually).

Meanwhile in Australia, Victoria’s Labor Premier, Daniel Andrews has signed up to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. For whatever it’s worth, as “The Australian” reports today, Andrews’ media adviser is a “special consultant” to “the Shenzhen Association of Australia, which is part of a network of organisations in Australia that is guided by the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.” The Department, for the uninitiated, is the Communist Party’s overseas networking and influence arm that works to ensure the spread of Chinese soft and not so soft power through all means, including clandestine ones. Whether the adviser in question played any role in making the Premier’s mind here is almost beside the point. The big question is what is a State Premier doing effectively conducting his own foreign policy, with a dictatorship, under secret terms, and particularly in regards to a program with concerning defence and security implications? While the Initiative ostensibly aims to supersize both overland and maritime transport infrastructure linking China with Europe, Africa and the Oceania, as with everything else that the Chinese Communist Party touches, it’s more than just about trade:

Despite the claimed economic nature of the OBOR [One Belt One Road] agenda, critics see the initiative as being simultaneously a strategic program. China clearly portrays OBOR as both being premised on and further validating China’s claims to the islands of the South China Sea, while on the other side of the Indian Ocean, Djibouti is providing China with both a trade port as well as its first overseas military base. It has been repeatedly noted in China that OBOR is also intended as a regional security mechanism, and the future role of the People’s Liberation Army in protecting China’s OBOR facilities abroad has been widely discussed. The two ‘economic corridors’ now being developed provide China with direct access to the Indian Ocean.

Broader concerns relate to the longer-term aims of China, with the possibility that the OBOR agenda is aimed at creating a Eurasia-wide, China-led bloc to counter the US. At the June 2016 Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, Professor Xiang Lanxin, director of the Centre of One Belt and One Road Studies at the China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, spoke of OBOR as being an avenue to a ‘post-Westphalian world’. As such, some see this initiative as a profound challenge to the current global political and economic status quo.

Time to wise up – and call people on their naivety, or worse.

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