China’s massive hacking enterprise is part of an attempt to catch up without conforming to the rules of the road. It hacking directly harms the U.S., and as such must be punished. But the key question to keep in mind is: does confronting China’s minor rule-breaking help dissuade it from doing so, by imposing penalties through sanctions? Or does it validate the Communist Party’s nationalist narrative, and so strengthen the government’s grip on power?
The jury is still out. But it is worthwhile to remember that no authoritarian state has become a Great Power or superpower without challenging the world order, usually through war. China is unlikely to be the first. And so we levy the sanctions, in the midst of China’s worst slowdown in decades, and we wait for the other shoe to drop.