On May 19, the DOJ indicted five Chinese cyber-spies. The next day, China banned Windows 8 from government computers. Five days later, state-run firms were ordered to cut ties with US consulting firms. Next came a push from the government to have Chinese banks replace IBM computers with Chinese ones and sharp criticism of network equipment manufacturer Cisco Systems.
In fact, the Chinese government may be taking steps to consolidate its control over the country’s networks. Leaked documents have shown that American companies are susceptible to being pressured by the N.S.A. to disclose customer data. And Windows 8 has been accused of being equipped with a component that can allow Microsoft to control a computer remotely.
On the other hand, the backlash against American firms is reminiscent of the approach China often uses when criticized.
In December 2013, after reports of corruption in the Chinese regime, authorities denied entry to several journalists from The New York Times and Bloomberg. In Bloomerg’s case, the government started to cancel subscriptions to its financial index, bring subscriptions down by over 90%.
China scholars and journalists are routinely denied visas if they express criticism of government policies.
So-called “China experts” routinely censor themselves to protect their access to China and, in effect, their livelihoods. In Bloomberg’s case, investigative articles about China were cut and Michael Forsythe, who came out with this fact, was placed on “unpaid leave.”
China’s push against U.S. companies may have been anticipated. Reports on the evidence-gathering that led to the Chinese hackers’ indictment show that companies were reluctant to step forward. Whether out of genuine fear of American infiltration, an attempt to silence criticism, or even to advance China’s economic interests, Chinese authorities appear to be poised to use any tool at their disposal.