China Censors Sony Hack News While Calling for ‘Restraint’ from All Parties

AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura
AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura

As one of the nations with the closest relationship to the extremely isolated North Korean government, many have been closely following the reaction of the Chinese government to developments surrounding the hacking of Sony corporate servers. China’s official statements have been limited in their scope, though the state has heavily censored news surrounding the hack and, particularly, accusations that North Korea orchestrated it.

In state news outlet Xinhua this week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for “restraint from all parties” involved in the hack. As the Chinese government has not indicated in any way that it agrees with FBI accusations against the government of North Korea, the only party definitively implicated in the statement is the United States, whose native corporation was the victim of the attack.

“We hope all parties can keep restraint to properly deal with the issue,” continued Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, calling cyber attacks “anonymous and transnational” and restating that the Chinese government will not publicly accuse or confirm accusations until it is satisfied with the amount of information received.

While the government may not have officially chosen any sides publicly, a look at how China is manipulating Google to issue results on the story indicates an attempt to protect its communist neighbor. CNN notes that, while the story has received some coverage in China, much of the story has been largely censored:

In Shenyang on Tuesday, an Internet search for “North Korea” on China’s leading (and government-controlled) search engine revealed a list of mostly positive articles about the DPRK. A Baidu search for “North Korea hack” in English revealed just one nearly two-week-old article naming the DPRK as “one of several suspects” in the Sony hacking investigation.

The call for “restraint” from the Foreign Ministry followed news earlier this week that North Korea’s Internet infrastructure had shut down completely for an extended period of time, an event many speculated may have been a counterattack on the North Korean government in response to the Sony hack. The hacking, which a group called “Guardians of the Peace” has taken responsibility for, is allegedly in revenge for Sony’s greenlighting the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview, in which a hapless celebrity talk show host is recruited to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

It is the first hacking of its scale to be suspected of coming out of North Korea, though certainly not the first major hacking against American companies. Most of these hacks attributable to any state, however, reportedly come out of China. In October, FBI Director James Comey accused China of being “on top of the list” of global cyber crime, a practice that costs American companies, in his estimate, “billions” a year. Most of the hacks, he noted, were not political in nature like The Interview-related one, but attempts to steal trade secrets from corporations so that Chinese and other companies do not have to invest in inventing their own technologies.