Author Biography

Magnus Hjortdal is a researcher associated with CHINA-SEC, Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen. He holds an M.Sc. in Political Science from the University of Copenhagen and is owner of MH International Relations, which advises private and public institutions. Former Research Fellow at the Royal Danish Defense College, where he drew assessments and advised Danish authorities. Frequently featured in Danish television, radio, and print media. Expertise: China; East Asia; the U.S.; foreign, defense, and security policy; cyber warfare; intelligence; and espionage.


Subject Area Keywords

China, Counterintelligence, Cybersecurity


This article presents three reasons for states to use cyber warfare and shows that cyberspace is—and will continue to be—a decisive element in
China’s strategy to ascend in the international system. The three reasons
are: deterrence through infiltration of critical infrastructure; military technological espionage to gain military knowledge; and industrial espionage to gain economic advantage. China has a greater interest in using cyberspace offensively than other actors, such as the United States, since it has more to gain from spying on and deterring the United States than the other way around. The article also documents China’s progress in
cyber warfare and shows how it works as an extension of its traditional strategic thinking and the current debate within the country. Several examples of cyber attacks traceable to China are also presented. This includes cyber intrusions on a nuclear arms laboratory, attacks on defense ministries (including the Joint Strike Fighter and an airbase) and the U.S. electric grid, as well as the current Google affair, which has proved to be a small part of a broader attack that also targeted the U.S. Government. There are, however, certain constraints that qualify the image of China as an aggressive actor in cyberspace. Some believe that China itself is the victim of just as many attacks from other states. Furthermore, certain actors in the United States and the West have an interest in overestimating China’s capabilities in cyberspace in order to maintain their budgets.

Recommended Citation

Hjortdal, Magnus. “China’s Use of Cyber Warfare: Espionage Meets Strategic Deterrence.” Journal of Strategic Security 4, no. 2 (2011): 1-24.

Journal of Strategic Security