The artifice on which every intra-state relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) stands is: “In China, ‘win-win” means China wins twice.” There have been a few articles on the PRC here on SOFREP. I recently worked on a project that dealt with this, and thus my decision to write on it was appropriately supplanted by my own concerns for OPSEC.

This changed with the advent of Edward Snowden‘s trip to the PRC which, in effect, may have changed some TTPs that that the PRC used (or prior to the event, failed to use) and my project which lasted for well over six months got flushed away. Fun times. Needless to say then, after this work I have seen and read so much crap on the PRC that I can probably speak Mandarin and Cantonese in my sleep.

Current efforts by the PRC at shaping the world are actually a strategy (a key word here) of approximately 20 years in the making. There are two key facets to this strategy, and under one part many sub-facets. The first is the very straightforward one termed as Sha Shou Jian, or “Assassin’s Mace” (very loosely translated). This component of the strategy is dedicated toward the military face (faces are important in PRC culture).

This face, or avatar, is straightforward and is essentially based on an old story of a disadvantaged opponent taking down a larger opponent with a blunt object. A rough equivalent is the story of David and Goliath. Assassin’s Mace is not an attack or defend strategy, but merely one that observes the vulnerabilities in an advantaged opponent and develops technology to neutralize an advantage held by the technologically superior opponent. David Hambling at Wired wrote a fairly close look at this component by using HARM missiles as just one example.

The second and lesser known facet of this strategy is Harmonious Fist. This is an informal name use and hearkens back to what the West called the “Boxers,” but the Chinese know as the “Army of the Harmonious Fists.” The Harmonious Fist symbolizes the nature of the secret society that used its martial prowess in combination with its existing environment to attempt to expel foreign influences from China. This aspect of Chinese strategy is the one I will discuss and in true form, how het-nets feed into the strategy. I got involved with this as I usually did. Somebody asked me to hunt some hackers. In this case, Team XeYe.

The Harmonious Fist of China: Artifacts

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My requirements come in pretty loosely. So when I get this, I get some names and someone mumbles something about hackers. I ask questions and the awkward silence that follows is usually an indication that someone in the nether of intel doesn’t want to say who they are and why they are asking for this. If I find something, then f*ckers start popping out of the woodwork.

Ninety-nine percent of my work is on the same network you all use, with some tweaks to my deck that help me stay quiet. Hackers in the PRC are not like hackers here in the US. An average grade hacker in the PRC can run a certificate collision attack pretty effectively. This is because, unlike the US, most urban regions in the PRC are pretty well social-engineered. Even rural areas have a high degree of social engineering. Ever play Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri? Well there’s a reason that the Chinese faction is called the “Human Hive.” While contemporary China doesn’t get as many social engineering points as the future one does, it’s working toward that pretty quickly.

I don’t mean social engineering in terms of hacking. I mean that students are grown in China to best meet their function through a very industrial complex. It is the anti-thesis of the education system in the U.S. Students early on are identified (sometimes incorrectly) with specific proclivities and then put into a specific track that will culminate in a job function, like party member (see: Communist Youth League), computer scientist, microbiologist, etc. Adherence to party principles is measured by degrees of “morality” in the PRC.  It’s not how Soviet “Red” you are, its how “morally” Chinese you are.

According to the Jamestown Foundation, “While past leaders from Mao Zedong to Jiang Zemen strove to strike a balance between “redness” and “expertise”, President Hu and his colleagues have put “morality” – political reliability and obedience – above professional competence. This is to prevent closet liberals or “Chinese Gorbachavs” from emerging from within the younger-generation leadership.”(Lam 2010)

The Chinese education system is one geared toward developing knowledge indigenously, and what it cannot create or produce indigenously, it extracts from abroad. According to William Hannas, the Chinese sought early on to separate foreign (initially Russo-Soviet) culture from the knowledge whence it came. The specific intent of the Chinese is to extract knowledge but not contaminate the Chinese culture with any kind of Western influence.

This is the concept of ti-yong. Ti-yong is “to keep China’s style of learning to maintain societal essence and adopt Western learning for practical use.” (Hannas 2013). Students are encouraged in the STEM areas as opposed to the Western concept of a liberal arts education. Along this track, the best are carefully selected for Torch programs or universities. Torch programs are regionally controlled industrial and academic R&D fusion city centers. There are at least 50 of these centers dedicated toward integrating academic R&D into a applied business process for either military or commercial development. This is similar to our Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). Other students are selected for university positions as interns under prestigious academics.

The PRC likes to use this student population as spies. They get sent abroad to universities around the world, either wittingly or unwittingly, to study in areas that the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND) deems weak within the Chinese strategy. This commission is today known under the benignly disingenuous term Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). The intent of MOST is to use these students in an unwitting or witting capacity to acquire knowledge, processes, or technology that the PRC does not yet have.

To support this effort and part of the overall effort of qingbao (a term which is nearly synonymous to both intelligence and information), the PRC has a massive library system. Based on the PRC’s own estimates from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC), here are the following holdings as of 2005: 1.2 million foreign conference papers, 1.8 million foreign S&T reports,  270,000 foreign periodicals, 9.8 million microfilmed products, 330,00 audio visual products, 4.722 billion titles and abstracts in databases, 644 million full text documents in databases. These holdings are spread over 353 computer networked institutes.  These institutes are overseen by intelligence experts and have an average user base of 27 million as of 2005. Chinese who accessed overseas networks through the institutes to obtain foreign S&T materials numbered slightly over one million. (Hannas 2013). This means that the Chinese are using academic virtual credentials to obtain records from other countries that supply the data on the condition that you are an academic. This system is not the same as their intelligence networks or their Internet.

Rubbing Shoulders With China's Student Spies

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Chinese State Council Steering Committee of S&T and Education
(Image Courtesy: Steve Blank)

This system is not available to you in any way, shape, or form. This is not Google. This is not an American public library system. This is as if all the library systems in the US fell under the control of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). It is qingbao. This is not your paramilitary grand-dad’s intelligence.

Before you ask, “But tinfoil hat dude, is it ALL intentional?” Yes. Yes it is. The most brilliant part of Harmonious Fist is that the PRC tells you all about it in their five and 20 year plans.

How do you think I found it? The PRC relies on the Western attributes of apathy and ADHD. So to read these hundred page documents you’ll need a couple of things. You’ll need to be able to optical character recognition (OCR) tons of crappy digitized documents; you’ll need to translate them from either Mandarin or Cantonese; and then, you’ll need to conduct natural language extraction and processing (NLEP/NLP). If you don’t know what lemmatisation is, you’ll probably need a Chinese linguist and about ten years of time.

“Is that all there is to Harmonious Fist,” you ask. “Where does this “het-net” shit come in,” you ask. “What the hell happened to Team XeYe,” you ask. No. This is not all. This is just the educational system directed at undermining Western dominance of the globe. Next we will focus on the economic and technological facets of this system that fall under the same strategy. This is my discovery process that led me from a project about a tiger team of hackers to mapping the entire espionage complex of the PRC and identifying where the Chinese plan on going from there.

Please enjoy the common military custom of “hurry up and wait”…for part two.

I am the Architect. I created the Matrix. I’ve been waiting for you. You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human. Ergo, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant. -The Architect, The Matrix Reloaded

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Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, and Jamestown Foundation (Washington, D.C.). Changing of the Guard: Beijing Grooms Sixth-Generation Cadres for 2020s. Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2010.

William , Hannas, Mulvenon James, and Puglisi Anna. Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernization. Asian Security Studies. Routledge, 2013.