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Beijing's Attack on the U.K.

Recent revelations of China's state-sponsored cyber attacks on U.K. financial institutions underscores that strategic financial power is high on Beijing's list of priorities. Moreover, these attacks are consistent with "Unrestricted Warfare," a white paper published in 1999 by two PLA Air Force colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, in which they argue that future wars will be fought on many fronts, and that in fact economic and financial warfare will become an increasingly necessary and accepted form of conflict.

Whether Unrestricted Warfare represents today's official view of China's strategic outlook is unclear. What is clear, however, is that from a risk-reward perspective, Beijing must believe that, as a matter of national strategy, a policy of infiltrating foreign financial systems provides great enough rewards to offset the risk of significant political fallout. China's zeal for financial power is clearly beyond the realm of licit transactions.

But what specifically are the Chinese after?

Proprietary technology? The need for cutting-edge financial infrastructure in China is great, but Beijing could quite easily purchase needed technologies (or the technology providers themselves) and forgo the considerable risks associated with cyber-espionage.

Data? Discounting a criminal motive, Beijing could be interested in gaining access to transaction or pricing data as a means to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, particularly in the commodities arena. China's explosive growth rate means that even a slight edge could save China billions in natural resources expenditures.

While theft of data or trade secrets could be the primary motive, Beijing is also testing information defenses and planting back doors - in short, developing a formidable information warfare capability. Beijing views the global capital markets as the naval philosophers of the early 20th century viewed the sea - that is, as the lifeblood of national prosperity, and therefore a medium for the projection of national power.

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