China Central Television released an animation which simulates space module Tiangong-1 entering its orbit – to the tune of "America the Beautiful." Watch CCTV's "patriotic" coverage.
By Ed Flanagan, NBC News
BEIJING – Any attempt to compose a serious reflection Friday morning on the significance of China's successful launch of the Tiangong-1 module into space last night was dashed this morning when we started reviewing coverage of the launch.
As the Guardian first discovered – and we missed over the din of breathless Chinese coverage of the launch on CNN and the BBC – amidst the video distributed by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) was a computer animation ostensibly created by the Chinese space agency showing the rocket soaring up into the heavens. Later, the Tiangong (which in English translates roughly to “Heavenly Palace”) module is shown linking up with the Shenzhou crew capsule – all accompanied to patriotic music...
But not quite patriotic in the way you’d expect.
The music selected to accompany China’s great national feat was none other than… “America the Beautiful.”
Was it meant as a musical overture to the U.S. for greater Sino-U.S. cooperation in space? A thumb in the eye of the West’s primacy in space? Or simply an embarrassing blunder by China’s propaganda department?
Whatever the answer, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen popular American culture unexpectedly showing up in Chinese news.
Just this past January, CCTV was found using video from the Tom Cruise classic, “Top Gun,” to spice up a news report on China’s military forces.
So those of you who are anxious that China may one day surpass the United States in the space race or are suspicious of the mainland’s space ambitions, take comfort in knowing that for at least one night, the Chinese people were united with Americans in crowning thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
To read more about the successful launch of the Tiangong-1 module last night and the ramifications of the launch, be sure to check out MSNBC’s coverage of the event here and here.
CCTV-7 is China Central Television's military and agricultural focused channel.
China’s response at the time was: "Accusations that the Chinese government participated in cyber attacks, either in an explicit or inexplicit way, is groundless and aims to denigrate China.”
Over the years, Beijing has consistently faced widespread accusations of hacking – albeit based almost completely on circumstantial evidence. Some of the allegations are that the central government is either actively engaged in, or contracts out to civilians, the job of hacking American defense and corporate servers in order to raid valuable U.S. defense and business trade secrets.
China has always voraciously denied such allegations, claiming that its state Internet intentions were “transparent and consistent” and that efforts to link the country to hacking was merely an attempt to smear the mainland. Last year, Chinese digital security officials went so far as to even play the victim, claiming 60 percent of its Netizens have been hacked and 30 percent have had passwords stolen.
Which is why it came as a surprise this week that China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, debuted a 20-minute documentary last month on its military channel (CCTV-7) entitled, “Military Technology: Internet Storm is Coming,” which may have inadvertently shown custom designed hacking software.
How to hack advice Thirteen minuts into the broadcast, the story shows footage of a computer screen as a user appears to open a hacking program known as a DDOS, or "distributed denial-of-service.” A DDOS is a simple hacking tool that swamps websites with data in order to disable them. During the show, when the computer program opens, the viewer is presented with a series of options as well as a list of “targets” to attack.
The video has since been pulled off the CCTV website but was still available to watch on YouTube (see below, 35 seconds into start of video). The channel’s website and Sina Weibo account made no comment on the matter. A translation of the program’s options and text is below (hat tip to Shanghaiist for the link).
A screen grab of the DDOS program employed is seen above. The translated lines of text (by line) are: 1)People's Liberation Army Information Engineering University 2) Select Attack Destinations 3)Target IP 4) List of Falun Gong sites: 5)Falun Dafa in North America 6)Falun Dafa web site 7) Meng Hui web site 8)Witnesses of Falun Gong web site 1 9) Witnesses of Falun Gong web site 2 10) ATTACK CANCEL
A ‘smoking cursor?’ The authenticity and functionality of the alleged hacking program is of course open to debate, but the fact that hacking software with an obvious offensive capability was shown on state television raises important questions regarding the reasons behind the software’s inclusion in the report.
Given China’s resolute steadfastness that it is not involved in state sanctioned hacking and the overall tone of the documentary that generally supported that argument, it is entirely likely that the footage found its way into the piece simply because the editor was unaware of the political significance and repercussions of such video being seen by foreign viewers.
In a post on his online research newsletter, China SignPost, Dr. Andrew S. Erickson, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute, suggested that the program was a “smoking cursor” or proof of the existence of Chinese offensive hacking software. However, in the case of this program, Erickson suggests that the software may have been a decade old and part of stock footage given to the producers of the show by the PLA:
Perhaps the least unlikely explanation is that program producers sought specific footage to document specific cyber attack techniques. For reasons of Chinese pride, and perhaps PLA assertiveness, they wanted to show that China could do something itself in the face of perceived threats. Falun Gong, particularly despised by Beijing, offered a politically-correct and “morally justified” target even for ideologically dubious techniques. Footage from previous interviews and interaction with the PLA Electronic Engineering Institute may have happened to be available in convenient form, and met visual requirements…
Perhaps most importantly, the CCTV-7 software contents appear to correlate so closely with a set of attacks that China is alleged to have engaged in a decade ago that their construction would appear to be tedious for the production schedule of a major weekly television program.
Regardless of whether the software is real or not, the presentation of offensive hacking capabilities put together by PLA research institutes presents for Beijing the unwelcome perception the government is actively involved in cyber-warfare.
The timing of this revelation is troublesome as it comes months after the U.S. announced a new cyber strategy that advocated responding with military force to foreign cyber attacks. Or as one military official put it at the time: "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."
It also comes on the heels of the release of the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military forces, which argued the mainland was “steadily closing the technological gap with modern armed forces.”
BEIJING – In 2005, I was deeply engaged in an extended military campaign on battlefields across China. Thousands of Chinese and Americans fell each day, but the only real casualty suffered was my bruised ego as I was easily picked off time and again in a blaze of glory playing the videogame, Battlefield 2.
Battlefield 2, a popular first-person multiplayer shooter released that year, pitted U.S. Marines, Chinese forces and a fictional Middle Eastern Coalition against each other in imaginary locations around the world.
The game’s Chinese maps and scenarios were incredibly popular among Chinese players who took great pleasure in blasting me and countless others with a variety of different weapons regardless of whether my character was wearing a Chinese or American uniform.
Which is why it is surprising to see the recent release of Glorious Mission(also known as, Mission of Honor), a military simulation jointly developed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Chinese software developer, Giant Interactive Group. It has generated waves in the U.S. not for its graphics or game play – but for the fact that American soldiers are the main adversary.
Objections don't appear to be focused on the game's existence. After all, the U.S. military is heavily invested in its own acclaimed military training and recruitment game, America’s Army, but it features a generic enemy, so as not to offend anyone.
Rather, the concern is that the game, which was ostensibly developed as a training tool for the PLA, makes American solders and equipment the enemy combatant and could lead young, impressionable trainees to believe that the United States is the enemy.
There are indeed legitimate concerns that some nationalist elements in the PLA do view conflict with the United States as inevitable. However, in the case of Glorious Mission, it seems unlikely that one simulation could dramatically alter the thinking of PLA enlisted men. After all, the generation of soldiers that Glorious Mission is geared towards has already been exposed to a wide variety of online games that pit players against a whole host of enemies ranging from the real to the ridiculous.
Designed by the People's Liberation Army and a Chinese gaming company, Glorious Mission is a military simulation game intended for training purposes.
Take a trip to any Internet café or arcade around China and the one thing that can quickly be concluded is that when it comes to video games, teenagers playing first-person shooters don’t particularly care who or what they are shooting at, as long as they are shooting at something.
Online dominance Perhaps what should be of greater concern to American tech insiders is the apparent smoothness of the graphics and game play of Glorious Mission.
The successful development of Glorious Mission represents not just a small step forward by the PLA towards creating an American style “virtual army experience,” but also the Chinese gaming industry’s noticeable move up the technological food chain.
In the last few years there has been an explosion in online gaming in China, fueled by the rise of countless Chinese gaming companies. In 2010 alone, China's online gaming market raked in 32.37 billion Yuan (approximately $4.9 billion) – a 26.3 percent increase over 2009.
With over 76 million online game players in China and a business model that sensibly caters to young gamers’ wallets through low-cost games and cheap add-ons, it is no small wonder that the country has quickly risen to become the largest online gaming market, expected to be valued in excess of $8 billion by 2014.
Meanwhile, as U.S. gaming companies have largely struggled to sell their products in China, Chinese companies are beginning to make in-roads in the U.S. market. Earlier this year, China’s largest Internet company, Tencent Holdings, bought a majority share of American gaming company Riot Games Inc. for more than $350 million.
BEIJING – After SARS derailed my planned summer study abroad in Beijing a few years back, I decided instead to study Mandarin at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, a short walk away from the U.S. military’s Defense Language Institute.
As their students tended to come down to our school to look for language partners, I frequently had the opportunity to see the Chinese textbooks they were working with.
They were nothing like this People Liberation Army’s English primer from around the same time period I stumbled across the other day.
Comprising over 40 learning capsules ranging from “Common Orders” to “Ordering Enemy to Surrender,” the lessons are mostly short articles and dialogues on relevant subjects translated sentence-by-sentence into Chinese characters.
Most of the subject matter is innocuous enough, dealing with everyday life in the military. However, some of the lessons provided a fascinating look at the PLA indoctrination process that goes on even in foreign language study.
A section on “Military Communication” included this tacit warning that mass media required regulation and control [Note: Your computer may require Chinese language support to read characters]:
780. The mass media are developing in a daunting speed.
781. Newly developed computer and digital communication technologies enable any one to communication freely.
782. You cannot control their free communications in a traditional way.
Again, this material seems to date back to 2003, and it is likely that the English language program at the PLA has undergone dramatic changes over the last few years. It is nevertheless, an interesting peek at the past of one of the most mysterious militaries in the world.
BEIJING – Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ three-day visit to Beijing this week was intended to help jump start military-to-military relations with China, which have been rocky in recent years due to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and the periodic arrival of carrier groups near the mainland.
Larry Downing / AP
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks while visiting the Great Wall in Mutianyu, China Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011.
Gates instead found himself fielding a barrage of questions about recent Chinese military innovations and calls from home to meet those developments with more focused U.S. military spending.
The startling photos of China’s new J-20 stealth fighter – anticipated by many experts not to be operational for several more years – as well as admissions this week by intelligence chiefs that they had underestimated new anti-ship ballistic missiles, have been feeding the discussion.
To his credit, despite negative press in the U.S. over the PLA’s provocative J-20 display on the eve of the visit, as well as disturbing news that President Hu Jintao appeared unaware of the new stealth plane’s debut, Gates stuck to his stated goal.
The announcement Wednesday that Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, commander of China’s nuclear forces, will visit the United States Strategic Command in Nebraska was a notable score for the U.S., according to many China watchers. It represents a fresh opportunity to establish some rapport and an opportunity to push for transparency from a military force the U.S. knows precious little about.
“China’s Naval Ambitions” is an instructive article from the Armed Forces Journal on this point. Written by two former U.S. military attaches posted to Beijing, Navy Cmdr. Thomas Henderschedt and Marine Lt. Col. Chad Sbragia, the piece critically calls attention to what they view as an institutional failure within the U.S. armed forces to understand the People’s Liberation Army.
In pointing out the deficiencies of the United States’ intelligence gathering mechanisms on China, Henderschedt and Sbragia emphasized the importance of military-to-military visits as a means to balance out a relationship where the PLA has a far better understanding of the motivations, tactics and thinking of the U.S. military than America does of China:
Conversely, while many U.S. maritime services personnel are dedicated to China, few currently on the “China account” have visited China, fewer still speak Chinese and nearly none have enjoyed direct, day-to-day experience with the PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] and PLAN strategic initiatives... The deep understanding by the PLAN allows its officers to be extremely predictive on how the U.S. will act, react and negotiate. The inverse is also true — our superficial approach does not allow deep, predictive analysis of PLAN strategic initiatives.
As China has rapidly modernized its armed forces in the last two decades, Chinese military officers have been sent off to learn English and military strategy and over time have acquired a surprisingly intimate knowledge of U.S. tactics and policy.
On the other hand, as the authors note, few Americans officers are well-versed in China’s military capabilities, strategy or political thinking.
Though the article is strictly on the U.S. naval relationship, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that this inverse relationship probably applies across the board to all branches of the American military.
Experts were surprised by the sudden debut of China's J-20 stealth fighter, which many believed would not be in operation for a few more years at least.
This makes Gates’ successful trip a huge step towards gaining a better understanding of the PLA’s leadership and its intentions, which is a growing concern not just for the United States, but China’s Asian neighbors as well.
The intentions and motivations of the PLA’s leadership is a critical unknown, as the authors note, despite steady American calls for cooperation in the South China Sea and the Pacific, China still acts, with its own best interests at heart:
It is imperative to understand, however, that China, and by extension the PLAN, will behave in its own interest, even as the U.S. seeks cooperation and avenues for PLAN transparency. While we continue to pursue “dual wins” with the Chinese, it is very instructive to note that the Chinese language has no native means of conveying this concept.
Henderschedt’s point that the Chinese for the term, “dual wins,” or shuang ying, is not native to Chinese is a good point. It is rare that you hear that term used outside of the standard party propaganda and even rarer to hear examples of it in reference to the recent military relationship.