In the first, both sides had to describe what they would do if they were attacked by a sophisticated computer virus, such as Stuxnet. In the second, they had to describe their reaction if the attack was known to have been launched from the other side. The next session is slated for May.
The war games are organised through the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington thinktank, and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a Beijing thinktank. Known as "Track 1.5" diplomacy, this conflict management method has allowed state department and Pentagon officials to talk to their Chinese counterparts in a less formal environment.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. has found China to be very aggressive. I say this is not shocking given that just last month, cybersecurity advisor Richard Clarke said China has hacked every major U.S. company to steal R&D.
"The PLA [People's Liberation Army] is very hostile," Jim Lewis, a senior fellow and director at CSIS who brokered the meetings, told the Guardian. "They see the US as a target. They feel they have justification for their actions. They think the U.S. is in decline. We want to find ways to change their behaviour … [but] they can justify what they are doing. Their attitude is, they have experienced imperialism and they had a century of humiliation. The Chinese have a deep distrust of the US. They are concerned about US military capabilities. They tend to think we have a grand strategy to preserve US hegemony and they see a direct challenge. The [Chinese officials] who favour co-operation are not as strong as the people who favour conflict. Of the countries actively involved in cyber espionage, China is the only one likely to be a military competitor to the US. US and Chinese forces are in close proximity and there are hostile incidents … The odds of miscalculation are high, so we are trying to get a clear understanding of each side's position."
"The United States is committed to engaging countries to build a global environment in which all states recognise and adhere to norms of acceptable behaviour in cyberspace," a state department spokesperson said in a statement, declining to speak about the war games. "We are engaging broadly with the Chinese government on cyber issues so that we can find common ground on these issues which have increasing importance in our bilateral relationship." The Pentagon declined to comment.
China has consistently denied being responsible for cyber attacks on the U.S. and other western countries. The communist government also insists it has also been the victim of such espionage.