Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 2, No. 5, May 2014.
By Anders Corr, Ph.D.
China is using a very blunt and escalatory instrument — threatening general deterioration in military relations — to respond to a limited issue of Chinese individuals stealing trade secrets. On May 20, the United States Justice Department indicted five People’s Liberation Army members for hacking United States commercial data. The remarkable speed with which China responded the following day, and at the highest level, suggests that commercial hacking is an officially-approved state policy on the part of China. The Chinese threat of reduced military cooperation and thereby deteriorating military relations is clumsy in that the Chinese would look better had they simply launched an investigation of the individuals — an investigation that they could later claim shows the indictment as baseless. The broad Chinese threat of deteriorating military relations invites an increase in US military attention to Asia — exactly what the Chinese should be trying to avoid. The clumsiness of the Chinese response to the indictments indicates a rash Chinese leadership prone to irrational military strategies, with consequent market volatility and political instability. The US and its Asian allies should respond with a measured forward deployment of military forces, and redoubled diplomatic energy towards greater alliance cooperation, including between Asian allies and NATO.
For legal and political reasons, the US will not be able to simply withdraw the indictment. It would increase the perception of an increasingly weak US foreign policy. This will lead Chinese diplomats to retaliate in some manner, further decreasing stability between the US and China. Expect mutual diplomatic retaliation to exert downward pressure on the Yuan (compensated by People’s Bank of China buying of Yuan), as well as downward pressure on Chinese stock indexes, including SHCOMP, CSI-300, Bloomberg China-US 55, and HSCEI. Expect Chinese index losses to increase with every additional diplomatic spat that ensues, and to slowly recover during periods of diplomatic quiet. Continue reading