Cyber attack battlefield: the clash of victimhood

By Xu Peixi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 17, 2013
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The U.S. state department, U.S. market-controlled media, and private security firms have recently synchronized their efforts for a second cyber security offensive, accusing China of not only hacking U.S. banks, companies, and state institutions, but also of having the intention of controlling important parts of U.S. infrastructure like power grids. China responded by saying that it is an innocent victim to external cyber attacks, and that the a primary culprit. Each side claims to be the victim and casts the other side as the villain.

While the answer to this cyber security controversy is crystal clear for any Chinese with the slightest reasoning ability, one is led to ask how it is possible for the U.S. to cloak itself as a victim and make the public buy this rhetoric. The key lies in the existence of an American feeling of victimhood that is somewhat different from the Chinese version.

The Chinese feeling of victimhood is simple to understand. The allied powers that invaded China in the 19th and 20th century remain dominant on the world stage. Learning from these powers and guarding against them has been a bloody lesson throughout history. This defensive mentality against the West is also embedded in thousands of decades of agricultural defense against nomadic neighbors. The Great Wall is evidence to this defensive mentality. Even the Great Fire Wall finds an element of legitimacy in this thread of thinking.

Now, Chinese have been at peace with this feeling of victimhood except when being challenged by hegemonic powers. The good thing is that even though China is mired in cyber security controversy in the U.S., China refuses to play by public sentiment, but instead points out plainly how the American mechanism works. This is exemplified in the words of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi: Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve their political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others or whitewash oneself.

But one thing the Chinese have not taken into consideration is that the Americans also share a feeling of victimhood, though different. The Chinese version of victimhood is marked by the Opium Wars in 1840s and 1860s, which taught the Chinese the importance of sovereignty and a strong state in protecting its citizens' rights. The American version of victimhood is marked by the Mayflower, a ship that transported over one hundred English pilgrims to the 1620, which primed the Americans about the value of freedom as well as a systematic distrust of the state.

These historical experiences also explain why China calls for state leadership, sovereignty and the UN intergovernmental framework in terms of Internet governance, while the U.S. resents such a broad international mechanism. But the U.S. version of victimhood has been hijacked by big businesses. It has also gone to such extremes as to accept the idea of defending itself by attacking others, a kind of "proactive defense." In terms of cyber security, the U.S. does a good job of convincing others that it is in the right. It did a superb job by claiming to be a victim before using its military, commercial or political channels to solve its problem. With the help of the U.S. media, the American feeling of victimhood has been mobilized to challenge China on cyber security.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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