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South Korea Hacked: Is China Or North Korea Responsible?

The South Korean banks and telecom systems were purportedly hacked by China. A spokesman for the Korea Communications Commission reported on Thursday that a cyber attack containing malicious software and causing networks to crash was by an IP address originating in China. South Korean officials suspect North Korea may have actually been behind the attack, though. North Korea has launched several cyber attacks against South Korea in the past and has recently threatened to attack Seoul in retaliation for U.N sanctions for nuclear weapons testing. However, “it's too early to assign blame to China or North Korea, since internet addresses can easily be manipulated.”

Last week, North Korea accused its southern neighbor of colluding with the United States to conduct “persistent and intensive virus attacks” against its digital infrastructure. North Korea insists South Korea is a “puppet regime” that acts according to U.S. instructions and vowed retaliation against the United States and its allies. The cyber attack against South Korea this week may be the “ensuing consequences” Pyongyang threatened. And while it is possible China assisted the North Koreans in launching the attack, it is unlikely given the economic repercussions and political tension that may occur between China and it’s Asian Pacific allies. 

China has a significant investment in maintaining access and stability to the Asia-Pacific region for trade purposes, including ensuring tension between the North and South don’t escalate.  Beijing has worked tirelessly over the past decade to form free trade areas and assure its neighbors that China is not a threat. China has publicly declared it is not a threat and maintains their priority is to ensure free and open trade with neighbors. In 2012, China unveiled plans of “mutually beneficial cooperation” and greater economic ties with its neighbors at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. According to the People’s Daily, China’s official state media outlet, "China's southeastern Asian neighbors have more to gain than lose in forging closer cooperation with the country." China is not likely to jeopardize the progress it has made in forging trusting relationships with its neighbors by assisting North Korea in launching cyber attacks against South Korea. 

China and North Korea have been allies since Chairman Mao and Kim Il-Sung forged an alliance during the Korean War. Today, China’s continued support guarantees regional stability and lucrative trade relations. According to experts, China’s alliance with North Korea allows Beijing to balance against U.S. military presence in the region and stabilize the border from massive migration into China. In addition, bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to nearly $6 billion in 2011. North Korea relies heavily on China for the majority of its food and energy supplies, while China is given access to ports and mineral resources. Pyongyang’s recent actions have strained relations between the two regimes, but China is not likely to retaliate against its communist brother, as the risks to trade and regional stability are too great.

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