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China-U.S. Cyber War; Putin in China; Vietnam Anti-Chinese Protests; Imagine a World

Aired May 20, 2014 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

One day after the United States put out wanted posters for five Chinese military officers, China is retaliating and threatening to do more. These men are at the center of the explosive allegations indicted on charges of hacking into U.S. companies and stealing commercial and trade secrets. They are the first foreign state officials ever to face charges from Washington of cyber espionage.

And announcing the allegations Monday, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder said the case is a groundbreaking step in tackling the cyber war being waged against America.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military. A range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response.


AMANPOUR: And an aggressive response is just what Washington got in the form of a furious denial from China. Beijing suspended the joint working group which was designed to resolve cyber threat and demanded that Washington withdraw the indictment. It's summoned the U.S. ambassador in for a stiff demarche; the foreign ministry called out America on its own surveillance programs.


HONG LEI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): The Chinese government, the Chinese military have never engaged or participated in any hacker attacks or any so-called cyber thefts of trade secrets.


AMANPOUR: Washington's naming and shaming of these five military officers raises important questions, though.

Why now?

And isn't there just symbolic since Beijing will almost certainly -- most definitely won't extradite the men to face charges?

This confrontation, though, comes in the midst of major differences that are ongoing in the South China Sea and also as China happens to be hosting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on a state visit. And he has his own problems with the hostile West over annexing Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine ahead of crucial presidential elections this coming weekend.

So joining me now from Washington for an exclusive and rare interview about all of this as well as that heated espionage war with Washington is China's ambassador to the United States.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui Tiankai, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: You have spent much of the last 24 hours in conversations with, I suppose, your own capital but also with the White House and the State Department.

What is the nature of those conversations?

What have you been saying at the State Department and the White House?

CUI: Well, I'm in constant contact with both the White House and State Department on any issue concerning the relationship.

AMANPOUR: Right, but --


CUI: And we are talking about any particular issue?

AMANPOUR: Yes, sir. I'm talking about the very major issue that has risen over the last 24 hours and that is that the United States has indicted five members of the Chinese army on an array of charges of stealing commercial and trade secrets.

What is your reaction to that?

CUI: You see, it's really amazing to see that some people still believe they have the moral high ground and credibility to accuse others, if we consider the Snowden revelations and so on, so forth. And people still can do that.

It's a bit incredible.


CUI: -- the fact is -- I'm think that the fact is China is a victim to such cyber attacks. There has been persistent and large-scale attacks on China's Internet, on China's government institutions, school, universities, companies and even individuals. And these attacks originate from the United States. So we have always requested the United States to give us a clear and thorough clarification. But we still have none of it yet.

AMANPOUR: The United States seems to be making a distinction between what it, I guess, does, which is national security eavesdropping, surveillance, spying, hacking and what it's accusing you and the Chinese government of doing, which is commercial cyber attack, commercial hacking and also stealing trade secrets.

What is your reaction to that?

CUI: I don't know how they can make a distinction between such activities.

How do they explain the attacks on Chinese companies, universities and even individuals?

Is that for national defense? Or is that for other purposes?

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you this, then, to react to the specific charges.

The United States, as you obviously very well know, has laid out a detailed indictment and it has labeled 31 counts, which could carry a maximum of 277 years in jail. And it is asking you -- and this is what the FBI is saying, the FBI director -- "If we fabricated all this, then come over to Pittsburgh and embarrass us by forcing us to put up or shut up and we will put up."

That is a direct challenge from the FBI director.

So if you're saying the U.S. is hypocritical, if you're denying what the United States is charging members of the Chinese PLA with, why not face the music, face the charges, send them over to Pittsburgh and have a jury, have lawyers and defend yourselves?

CUI: And why don't they come to Chinese court and explain themselves?

AMANPOUR: Well, that --


CUI: You see, Christiane, there used to be a working group on cybersecurity between the two governments. And they all agreed that the two governments should work together to fight such cyber attacks because it would certainly hurt the interests of both countries if we allow any cyber attacks to continue.

And we requested the United States to provide us with any evidence they have. And we will certainly pursue these cases in accordance with our own laws.

But they have never done that.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you then --


CUI: I don't think this is a very constructive approach.

AMANPOUR: -- is --

CUI: Yes, please.

AMANPOUR: -- is this working group still set up?

Is this one of China's retaliatory measures that it has now been disbanded or suspended?

CUI: Because they have undermined the very basis for this -- for this working group, the very basis for the working group is the commitment of both sides to work to address these measures, to address these issues through cooperation and dialogue. And now they are taking unilateral action. They really undermine the very basis of the working group.

The U.S. have to withdraw its wrong decision. Otherwise, because the U.S. took the first step and it has to take a right step.

AMANPOUR: This is a first; many people are in fact surprised that the United States government, after working sort of with you and this group over the last two years, has chosen to make this very public legal charge and indictment against members of the states, members of the PLA.

But apparently, this is a very detailed indictment and it lists people, you know, charged with conspiring to commit computer fraud, accessing computers without authorization, for the purpose of commercial advantage among other things.

Again, I know you're denying it, but why don't you take advantage of the court system and if there's nothing to hide, then you'll be exonerated?

CUI: We are not only denying all these false charges. We are also demanding some clarification from the U.S. side about cyber attacks on China. And they owe us such an explanation and clarification.

I hope they will also come to China's court to explain themselves. xxx AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we seem to be in a tit-for-tat verbal charges between capitals.

These here on our map are the six U.S. companies that allegedly China has been hacking into for the purpose of stealing intellectual property and gaining competitive advantage.

Amongst them are very famous companies, U.S. Steel, Westinghouse, Alcoa and three other companies.

There's a question also, along with these charges of getting trade secrets, what about the charges that actually China is also preparing and prepared for infrastructure attacks against key elements of U.S. infrastructure?

Those have been alleged in the past and some people, for instance, the former CIA director, has said that, you know, we're possibly in the midst of a cyber Pearl Harbor.

CUI: I think the fact is China's infrastructure is under attack, attacks originate from the United States. So we also have a long, long list of very good and well-known Chinese companies that have been attacked by such activities originating from the United States.

So I think it would be constructive and practical for two governments to work together on these issues, to address these issues together, not to exchange accusations like this.

I don't know why the United States made such a decision.

AMANPOUR: Well, it has made a decision, and as I acknowledge, it has surprised quite a lot of people --


CUI: And certainly it's the wrong decision.

AMANPOUR: -- and it --

CUI: It's a non-constructive, it's a wrong decision.

AMANPOUR: -- and it surprised a lot of people in governments around the world.

But you say the only constructive way to get through this is to work and talk together.

But if this working group has been disbanded and people believe that China will take more retaliatory steps, how on Earth are going to be able to discuss this?

Is that now, you know, consigned to the past?

CUI: We were very supportive toward the working group and we made our best efforts to make sure that the working group would have a good start. And they did have a good start.

But it's clear, the U.S. choice is to get rid of this working group. They have chosen another course of action. And it's not our choice. We're just responding to a decision, a wrong decision, taken by the United States.

AMANPOUR: They, of course, allege in this indictment that it is the unit of the PLA called Unit 61398, the news of which broke last year in Shanghai, that is responsible for this organized hacking into trade secrets. I know you deny this and I'm not going to get you to admit it, presumably, on the air.

But the last time we spoke, you said that it was in China's interest to maintain a stable and healthy relationship with the United States, which is the biggest world power.

Is that still possible?

And how will you get out of this?

CUI: This is still our position. This is still our hope. Whether this is possible or not is not entirely up to us. We have to have corresponding efforts by the United States. China itself cannot guarantee that the relations will move on the right track. We -- it requires efforts by both sides.

AMANPOUR: Can you tell me what the next moves by China will be?

The foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador to China. It's demanding that the United States retract these charges and this indictment.

If it doesn't, what will China do?

CUI: Our next action will depend on the next action by the United States.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that this is the beginning of a overt cyber war and a long-term cyber Cold War?

CUI: We certainly don't want to see that. We are strongly opposed to that. But we cannot impose our choice on others. They have to make the right choice themselves.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui, you just, if you wouldn't mind, stand by; we're going to take a short break and we're going to come back and discuss more regional issues between the U.S. and China and also indeed the notion of Russia.

On the outs with the West, President Vladimir Putin is in China for a meeting with the Chinese leader.

Is Putin also pivoting to Asia? Our conversation with Ambassador Cui Tiankai when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

And continuing my conversation with China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai. In the second part of this interview, we discuss territorial disputes and the crisis in Ukraine as well as the Russian president's visit to China right now as he makes an Asian pivot of his own with Europe trying to end its dependence on Russian gas and the prospect of the West slapping more sanctions on Moscow over that crisis in Ukraine, Putin needs an alternative. Making a major gas deal is top of his agenda.


AMANPOUR: So Ambassador Cui Tiankai, let me ask you precisely about this issue of the Russian president now meeting with President Xi in Shanghai and obviously there seems to be a great urgency on the part of Vladimir Putin to conclude an energy deal with China.

This has been going on for a decade and you haven't been able to do it and haggling over the cost.

Do you think now it will happen?

CUI: Well, I think actually there are frequent and regular high-level exchanges between China and Russia, because the two countries are each other's biggest neighbor. We have ties of all kinds between the two countries. So such a regular high-level visit is just normal and President Putin is in Shanghai for a state visit and also to take part in an international conference.

AMANPOUR: Right. You say it's normal, but you do accept that it's happening in the context of Vladimir Putin on the outs with the West; he has made a point of saying, look, China is going to be a much bigger economy very soon than the United States.

It's going to be the superpower very soon, as if to say, hey, you in the West, we don't need you. We'll conclude our business with China.

Is that how you see it?

CUI: I think it was the American press that first said China is going to be the biggest economy in the world, although we ourselves don't quite believe that. But I think that President Putin will be coming to China despite whatever happens between Russia and the West because he is our biggest neighbor.


CUI: We have very friendly relations with Russia.

AMANPOUR: You do have very friendly relations with Russia. Of course, it was the World Bank who said that recently about China growing to overtake the U.S. economy; the IMF disagrees and you obviously disagree.

But let me ask you this, if China is such a pal of Russia's as you say, why then has China been studiously careful not to overtly take Russia's side, for instance, in the Security Council over the annexation of Crimea, over what is going on in Eastern Ukraine?

Do you agree with the annexation of Crimea?

CUI: We always follow foreign policy that is independent, that is for peace, stability and development in the world. So we will make our own decision on the rights and wrongs of the issues themselves. We are not following any country's position.

AMANPOUR: You normally vote with Russia. You normally cast a veto together or you vote together; you have done over Syria and any number of issues that come to the Security Council. You didn't in this regard.

What worries you about what's happening in Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine in that region?

CUI: Well, first of all, if you check carefully the voting record of China in the United Nations Security Council, you could see a record of independence based on principles, not based on any other country's position. That's quite clear.

Number two, we are indeed worried and concerned about the situation in Ukraine and that part of the world. We want to see the situation calm down and the Ukraine people could really decide their own development path and their own destiny.

And we hope between Russia and the United States and Europe, you could -- you can work things out through dialogue and a consultation.

We don't want to see any escalation of the situation there.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that message President Xi will deliver to President Putin?

Hands off; let the Ukrainians do it.

CUI: I think this is our position all along, and we have made it public all the time. There are no secrets of the Chinese position.

AMANPOUR: Let me move onto President Obama and the pivot to Asia; as part of his tour of allies in Asia last month, he stopped very close to your region; he did not go to China. And his mandate, according to his officials, was to reassure allies of the U.S. support in all matters while not to threaten China.

Do you believe that President Obama achieved that?

CUI: There you have to check the public opinion in China.

AMANPOUR: I'm asking you as a government official. So tell me.

CUI: Yes, I'm not questioning the intention of the U.S. government. I'm looking at the effect, the result of the U.S. policies towards Asia, towards China and what they have done and said recently.

And honestly, I think the key to this rebalancing is to maintain a core relationship with everybody in Asia Pacific, including particularly China. And in this sense, I think this policy of rebalancing might need some rebalancing itself.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you something that President Obama said in Tokyo regarding the Senkaku Islands, the islands that you call the Diaoyu Islands and what he said standing next to the Japanese prime minister, Mr. Abe.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our treaty commitment to Japan's security is absolute. And Article V covers all territories under Japan's administration, including the Senkaku Islands.


AMANPOUR: So he's basically saying there, do not interfere; we will defend our allies if necessary.

What's your reaction to that?

CUI: You see, the Diaoyu Islands, they are always part of Chinese territory. This is quite clear. And we have maintained this position all along. So it is certainly China's sovereign right to defend its territory and to integrate it (ph).

AMANPOUR: Many people are very worried that this will be the spark that turns a tense relationship in the region into a hot shooting war.

Do you believe that that is possible anytime soon?

CUI: We are also worried about such a possibility and we are against it. That's quite clear. We don't want to see any conflicts in our neighborhood.

But it will not entirely -- it will not be entirely up to us, you see. Other people have to have the same constructive attitude and policy.

AMANPOUR: Right. But they sort of criticize you for using the airspace and even what's going on in Vietnam right now, having an oil rig in waters that are clearly claimed by one and disputed. You're even having to send - - you're even having to send ships to evacuate your citizens from Vietnam.

Why is China sort of tweaking everybody's nose over these issues?

CUI: Now let me get the facts straight on the issue with Vietnam. First, the Chinese company's operating only 17 nautical miles off a Chinese island and it's 150 miles from the Vietnamese coast, that's number one.

Number two, this is our only oil drilling operation in the area. So Vietnam is operating more than 30 such drilling operations all in the disputed areas, unlike our only one; we are doing it in undisputed areas.

Number three, we have only civilian ships, government ships there. But the Vietnamese have military vessels, armed vessels there.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui Tiankai, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

CUI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And all these issues, of course, are ongoing and we'll be coverage them and watching them very, very closely.

Meantime, here in Britain, breathtaking blossoms and breaking news share center stage at London's fabled Chelsea Flower Show, the world's largest horticultural extravaganza; one of this year's centerpieces is Thailand's elaborate floral tribute to its rich cultural heritage.

But on the same day that flowers bloom in Chelsea, armed troops have taken charge on the streets of Bangkok where the Thai military have suddenly declared martial law. While the generals insist it's not a coup d'etat, there are fears that the army's power may take root after months of political turmoil.

And after a break, we'll return to Chelsea and pause to smell the roses when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, while China's President Xi Jinping finds himself in an espionage war with the United States, he has been on an anti- corruption campaign as well at home in an effort to root out graft in the military as well as in Chinese businesses.

Now imagine a world where charges of favoritism and secret deals have been a blight on one of Britain's most beloved national treasures -- until now, that is. On Monday, the day before the military declared martial law in Thailand, Britain's Queen Elizabeth visited that country's dazzling floral display among other exhibits as she officially opened the Chelsea Flower Show, which is the world's largest garden gathering that's also become the summer gala event and the unofficial start of London's social season.

Today, it's the public's turn to tour the gardens, where critics have long contended that the rules, not the rhododendrons, badly needed pruning. Traditionally, gold medals have been awarded by seven judges, voting secretly behind closed doors.

But in an effort to achieve transparency, the judges will now use scoring sheets based on nine criteria from color to innovation.

There will also be a new crop of first time exhibitors, several of them under the age of 30. That's part of the Royal Horticultural Society's desire to cultivate careers in gardening.

In the land where rigid class system and the old boy network once extended from the playing fields of Eton to the most fashionable of flower shows, meritocracy is blooming.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.