The announcement, on Tuesday, that the United States has charged five members of the Chinese military with economic espionage—for hacking the computers of American companies—is an acknowledgment that its diplomatic relationship with China is moving toward confrontation. After trying to negotiate, embarrass, or threaten China’s military hackers into retreat, U.S. prosecutors have adopted what Jack Goldsmith, at Harvard, calls a “calculated escalation of pressure.” It is symbolism in service of setting a precedent. Though there is little chance the five suspects will ever set foot in a U.S. courtroom, their photographs and handles—KandyGoo, UglyGorilla—under the heading “Wanted by the FBI,” are now emblems of diplomatic deterioration. (Within hours, the accused had become objects of admiring fascination in China.)
Still, it would be easy to overlook the sign of a deeper, countervailing trend in China’s relationship with the West. On April 26th, the Beijing government abruptly banned the country’s most popular American television show, “The Big Bang Theory.”
…the ban hit a nerve. In the city of Wuhan, in central China, student members of the Center for Protection for the Rights of Disadvantaged Citizens of Wuhan University issued the rough Chinese equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request, demanding to know why they had been deprived of their favorite show.