by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Two news stories out this week highlight just how weak the Obama administration’s policy toward China remains. A month after the Office of Personnel Management cyberattack, in which up to 25 million (and maybe more) Americans had their information stolen, including fingerprints, financial history, and other sensitive data, the White House has formally decided not to publicly blame China for the attack. This is despite apparently overwhelming evidence that hackers from China were behind the devastating breach, the worst penetration to date (as far as we know) of U.S. government information. Worse, according to the news reports, is that China will get off scot-free, as the administration quails from retaliating in any way. In fact, the White House went ahead and held the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China in Washington just weeks after the OPM attack was revealed. The two parties sat across the table from each other while the Americans pretended that relations should go on as normal.
The usual Washington gobbledygook explanations for the failure to act are on full display … including the desire to protect intelligence sources and methods — the perennial excuse for failing to respond to anything involving classified information. It does not take much imagination to come up with a different response that, first of all, publicly blames China without revealing sensitive methods, and second, imposes some type of cost for the action, be it a canceled summit or meeting, or (heaven forbid) actual sanctions that may have a bite. After six years in office and having suffered repeated Chinese cyberaggression against the U.S. government and private corporations, the Obama administration’s message is clear: There will be absolutely no price to pay for your offenses. One can only conclude that such a message is welcomed in Beijing and that it encourages further and more outrageous behavior. (And, even if we are practicing the same cyber-chicanery against them, there’s still no reason not to retaliate, given the scale and scope of the latest attack.)