Cyber Clash with China (NSC)


To add spice or challenge to the role-play, partway through the discussion throw in one of the following flashpoints--additional hypothetical developments that fit within the case’s existing decision point – or create your own. 

  1. In an informal discussion with the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, a senior official at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs admits believing that hackers linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are indeed responsible for the Nasdaq hack, despite the Chinese government’s formal denial. Acknowledging the difficulty for the United States, the official asks the ambassador to urge restraint in any U.S. response. Assertive U.S. action, the official suggests, will only give the PLA license to escalate.
  2. Aircraft from the PLA Air Force fire on a Vietnamese military ship in the South China Sea off Vietnam. Several Vietnamese sailors appear to have been killed. PLA leaders claim they were merely defending unarmed Chinese fishing vessels that were being fired on by the Vietnamese ship. Vietnam’s government, meanwhile, claims that its ship was trying to prevent illegal fishing in Vietnamese waters and fired only warning shots. Vietnam’s foreign minister calls on “all countries concerned, in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, to work together to contain Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.”
  3. Three of the largest U.S.-based banks privately inform U.S. government officials that they have detected suspicious activity in their networks. The activity appears to be directed at disrupting international transactions so that more money than intended is transferred from the U.S. banks to banks overseas. The attacks seem to originate from IP addresses in China, though their true origin remains uncertain. So far, the attacks have not succeeded. However, bank executives tell U.S. Treasury officials that if any vulnerabilities cannot be patched in a matter of hours, they may need to cease international transactions, an action that has massive economic repercussions.
  4. Claiming that the feelings of the Chinese people have been hurt by U.S. actions in the South China Sea, large protests break out outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing and U.S. consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Shanghai, and Wuhan. Initially, the protests are orderly: students are bused in from campuses, given placards, and told what to chant. After several hours, unemployed people join the crowd, and protestors throw stones at and start fires outside the consulate in Chengdu. U.S. embassy websites and social media accounts are taken down within China, and access to all foreign websites is temporarily blocked.

After introducing a flashpoint, you might want to help students refocus their discussion by considering critical questions such as these:

  1. Who is affected by this event or development, and how?
  2. Is there any uncertainty about what has taken place? How credible is the report?
  3. Does this event or development affect the feasibility of any policy options? If so, how?
  4. Does this event or development affect the desirability of any policy options? If so, how?