“Soft Ribs and Strategic Weaknesses”

Those are the words Chinese military strategists use to describe the US military dependence on space assets and information technology, according to a new report (large file) from the Congressionally chartered US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report asserts that the investments China’s military is making in space and cyber operations “could provide it with an asymmetric capability enabling it to prevail in a conflict with US forces.” For one thing, the commission says that China is trying to redefine the views of sovereignty in outer space long held by the international community and maintains that it has the right to control space over its territory. That alone, states the report, could prompt a “conflict with the United States and other nations that expect the right of passage for their spacecraft.” China’s rapidly advancing space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army, which terms its space strategy “an active defense,” but as the commission notes a communist party publication earlier this year called on China to “pay great attention to carrying out offensive activities aggressively and organizing preemptive strikes.” And, for the flipside to space, the cyber realm, a US Strategic Command official told the commission that China “has the intent and capability to conduct cyber operations anywhere in the world at any time. … It can engage in forms of cyber warfare so sophisticated that the United States may be unable to counteract or even detect the efforts.” Among the commission’s recommendations is one that the US engage its allies, many of whom have also been on the receiving end of Chinese-inspired cyber attacks, in a joint cyber defense effort. (Read the Mitchell Institute’s new report Rise of Cyber War)