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Cyber warfare calls for int'l platform

China's parliament, the National People's Congress, this week and will nominate Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader, as the country's new president, and Li Keqiang as premier.

High on the new leadership's list of priorities should be an attempt to work out with the United States and other countries an accord on the rules of the road for cyberspace. China is widely seen as the most egregious offender in the world, not only in terms of spying against governments but also stealing proprietary information from companies, presumably to give its state-owned enterprises a leg up.

All governments spy and international law does not outlaw espionage. Thus, in his state of the union address, U.S. President Barack Obama excoriated those who had launched cyberattacks on the United States not for attempting to pilfer government information but for “seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.”

Any country that attempts to make use of such a capability would be carrying out an act of war. And the targeted country would be justified in taking pre-emptive defensive measures.

Cyber warfare is a new field and perpetrators are difficult to track down, since a single individual with a computer can launch an attack. Its victims are not only governments but include companies, the media and think tanks.

Such nonstate actors can be compared to civilians, who should not be targeted by any side in a war.

The Chinese government says that it does not have a cyber army and “Chinese laws prohibit cyber attacks and China has done what it can to combat such activities in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations.”

Recently, it has asserted that two military websites were the targets of more than 100,000 cyberattacks a month in 2012, with most of the attacks originating in the United States.

Washington has not denied that it engages in hacking — most people assume that it does — but it has insisted that the United States government doesn't carry out state-sponsored hacking for corporate espionage.

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