Google in the coal mine

China's cyber-attacks on Google these past several weeks were, sadly, mere replays of state-sponsored Chinese attacks on literally thousands of other American and foreign companies, human rights groups, individuals and, yes, even the U.S. government, including Congress.

A University of Toronto study last year identified more than 1,200 networks worldwide penetrated by a single Chinese-government-controlled cyber-intelligence unit. According to a Northrop Grumman investigation of Chinese military cyber-intelligence in October, secret Chinese cyber-units are organized in tight teams, working eight-hour shifts and employing penetration software that only could have come from proprietary source codes of the major American programming companies such as Microsoft and Adobe. In the 2008 presidential campaign, the FBI discovered that Chinese spies had even rifled computer networks for both the Obama and McCain campaigns. Sources in the U.S. Intelligence Community tell us that the problem is "a hundred times worse" than has been reported in the press, and that "this is a huge issue and one whose solution is far, far away."

Yet, in an 11-page speech on Internet censorship on Thursday, all U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could say of Google's predicament was that she would "look to the Chinese authoritiesto conduct a thorough review of the cyber-intrusions." She may as well "look to" Iran's authorities for "a thorough review" of that country's nuclear weapons plans.

Events of the past decade, since China was granted permanent most-favored-nation trading access to the U.S. market, are unfortunate evidence that our own government never seriously intended to enforce China's commitment to rules-based trade. Rather, Washington granted China special privileges (even permitting China to keep out U.S. automobiles and parts), indulged China's flouting of most other commitments and turned a blind eye to China's massive currency manipulation, which has kept Chinese goods cheap worldwide and hobbled America's price competitiveness. The results have been a hollowed-out U.S. manufacturing and industrial sector, a crippling U.S. trade deficit, a Chinese foreign exchange war chest of $2.4 trillion, and China's emergence as an industrial superpower.

America's challenge now is to craft an entirely new national strategy of constructive containment to address the nascent Chinese superpower's increasingly hostile behavior on the world stage.

The first step to solving a problem, of course, is admitting that you have one.

It is obvious from Google's own investigation that the Chinese government itself launched cyber-attacks against what certainly is the world's biggest and most influential Internet corporation and the flagship of America's advanced technology. The objective of the breathtakingly sophisticated and intricately staged hacker attacks against Google's corporate networks was, according to Google's own reports, nothing less than the plunder of Google's most valuable intellectual property.

Google's disillusionment with China reflects its realization that the Internet is becoming a tool of thought control in a totalitarian state, not a channel of information freedom. Now, stripped of its illusions, Google courageously has chosen the cause of human liberty over profit and has vowed to remove censors' filters from its search engines in China. Google's action signals that the company holds China's dictatorial state (and not some amateur hackers) responsible for the attacks.

But the Obama administration seems terrified of the implications of Google's behavior. Google reportedly consulted the White House before acting, but the most the Obama people could say was that the events were "troubling," or "raise serious concerns" or that they want to encourage China "to work with Google."

The administration's timidity in facing the reality of China's new superpower status was highlighted in October when the Obama White House directed the Intelligence Community to downgrade China to a Priority 2 intelligence target. This would be the first time in postwar history that China has ever been anything but a top-tier intelligence priority. Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Bill Gertz of The Washington Times last week, "China should be at the top of the priority list, not moving down."

Over the past decade - ever since the United States granted China permanent most-favored-nation trade status - China has adopted a rigidly protectionist industrial strategy of promoting "national champion" enterprises to compete both in China and abroad. China's rulers have subsidized state firms with hundreds of billions from their multitrillion-dollar foreign exchange coffers. The Chinese state, as a matter of strategic priority, finances the overseas operations of its energy and telecommunications companies. We have been told that the U.S. Intelligence Community has uncovered extensive evidence that the Chinese Communist Party Politburo has directed state banks over the past several years to disburse more than $40 billion to Huawei, China's biggest telecom firm, so that it can outbid foreign competitors in Latin American, African and Middle Eastern markets. Earlier this month, Huawei announced its intention to build a $500 million "research lab" in India, no doubt to ease Chinese penetration of India's telecom networks.

China is now the gravest challenge to democratic freedoms and rules-based international trade; China is now the influential patron of rogue states such as Burma, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe - to name a few. Even in the environmental arena - whether you are a global-warming believer or not - one must admit that China is the biggest and most unapologetic emitter of carbon dioxide.

In short, China is a top-tier strategic threat to the United States, and its ideology of predatory state mercantilism constitutes one of the greatest challenges to America's new Global Generation - like the danger posed by the Soviet Union to the Greatest Generation.

Now that Google has sharpened America's focus on just how predatory and dangerous China has become, it is time for America's leaders to craft a new China strategy. It will require, at a minimum, rebuilding America's industries and manufacturing, and it will require a rollback of China's privileged access to America's markets. It even may mean a review of costs and benefits in America's World Trade Organization membership; expenditure of tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure that the security of America's information infrastructure - from chip design to software development, from Internet protocols to new, secure, trustworthy and classified operating systems - is in America's control, not China's.

If, as experts confide, the problem is "a hundred times worse" than reported in the press and that this "is a huge issue and one whose solution is far, far away," we must craft solutions of equal urgency. What better way to strengthen our national security and our economy than by educating, training and employing American engineers, hardware and software designers, construction and factory workers to rebuild a secure information network for America.

John J. Tkacik Jr., a retired Foreign Service officer, chief of China intelligence in the State Department during the Clinton administration and Thaddeus G. McCotter, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.