Why China won′t support US on Sony hack | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 23.12.2014
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Why China won't support US on Sony hack

After the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, the US wants to put the alleged North Korean hackers under pressure - preferably with China's assistance. But Beijing is reluctant to do so, and for obvious reasons.

If it were up to China, it would never have allowed the UN Security Council to take on the issue of North Korea's human rights situation. Both Russia and China - Pyongyang's allies - were against the decision by the UN human rights panel to refer the case to the Security Council.

But the majority of the Council's members - including the US, France, Britain and South Korea - had a different take on the issue, which led to Monday's historic meeting.

So when the US called on the Chinese government to cooperate in dealing with the cyberattack on Sony Pictures - allegedly carried out by North Korean hackers - the signs were clear that Beijing would not reciprocate. But the US had to make the call; the hack was very costly, not least because it led to the cancelation of the comedy film "The Interview," which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Workers remove a poster- banner for The Interview from a billboard in Hollywood, California, December 18, 2014 a day after Sony announced was cancelling the movie's Christmas release due to a terrorist threat (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

On December 17 - eight days before its release - Sony Pictures decided to cancel 'The Interview'

US allegations

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believes North Korea was behind the cyberattack, in which a trove of Sony's sensitive documents was stolen. But Shen Yi, a political scientist at the Shanghai-based Fudan University, does not agree with those claims.

"The FBI says it has evidence to prove it, but probably what it has is the hackers' statements," Shen told DW, adding that "hacktivists" can make such claims to distract investigators. "Even with today's technology, you can't be 100 percent sure about the hackers' source."

Almost all of North Korea's telecommunications network is operated by China, another reason why the Chinese cooperation in the hacking case is crucial for Washington.

"Cyber security is a big challenge for all countries, therefore there should be cooperation between the states," Shen said. But the expert believes the international efforts to tackle the issue "should not be dictated by one side."

No clear criticism

The Chinese government has not officially responded to Washington's request, but China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi has spoken to his US counterpart John Kerry on the phone about the issue.

"China rejects all forms of cyberattacks and cyberterrorism," the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted Wang as saying in a statement.

That has been the attitude of the Chinese leaders for a long time. In what appears to be a very general condemnation of cyberattacks, the Chinese ministry certainly forgot to mention North Korea.

The buffer zone

China is North Korea's biggest ally, supporting the neighboring country with supplies of food and energy. The Asian giant is also Pyongyang's largest trade partner: North Korea's economic lifeline depends on China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi waves as he arrives to attend an ASEAN-CHINA ministerial meeting at the Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC) in Naypyitaw, August 9, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

China has slammed cyberattacks, but only in general terms

Politically too, China has consistently been supporting North Korea, protecting it in the UN Security Council by blocking resolutions against the communist country.

China's motives for this support are strategic: Beijing wants to maintain political stability in North Korea and cannot afford the regime's collapse. It fears that any chaos in its neighborhood would drive thousands of North Korean refugees to its border.

In addition, for China, the North serves as a buffer zone to South Korea, where thousands of US troops are stationed.