Mao’s Little Red Book inspires China’s cybercrime strategy

Benjamin R. Young is Assistant Professor in Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness at Virginia Commonwealth University.He is author of “Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader: North Korea and the Third World.”

Under President Xi Jinping, China has reemphasized Maoism as a pillar of national identity and revolutionary values.

Reasserting the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party in all aspects of society, Xi has promoted Maoist-style campaigns of self-criticism and rectification and has built up a Maoist-style personality cult around himself, even establishing “Xi Jinping Thought” research centers around the country.

This revitalization of Maoist ideas and principles, including self-reliance and the mass line, is not just symbolic but has influenced China’s external behavior, particularly in cyberspace. Working in tandem with Chinese cybercriminals with a focus on sabotage, China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has increasingly targeted U.S. government networks, as well as key private sector industries, including aviation and health care.

In July 2021, the U.S. Justice Department announced that four Chinese nationals working at an MSS front company, Hainan Xiandun Technology Development, had been charged with a conspiracy to commit computer fraud. This purposeful obscuring of the government-affiliated backgrounds of the CCP’s cyber operatives is a remnant of Maoist doctrine. As Mao once said, “The guerrilla must move among the people as a fish swims in the sea.” In other words, the merging of state and non-state actors in China’s cyber activities is a long-standing tactic.

Xi Jinping stands above a giant portrait of late Mao Zedong in Beijing on July 1: Xi has built up a Maoist-style personality cult around himself.

  © Reuters

At Hainan Xiandun, the four Chinese nationals allegedly coordinated and facilitated cyber activities on behalf of the MSS from 2011 to 2018. Professors at Chinese universities allegedly helped Hainan Xiandun recruit hackers and one local university in Hainan even helped the front company maintain its private sector illusion by managing its payroll, benefits and mailing…