U.S. Markets open in 40 mins

Former secretary of defense: How China and Russia weaponize the internet differently

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Amid the ongoing U.S. trade war with China, one of the core issues has been tech and cybersecurity. The Trump administration wants to end forced tech transfers—China’s tendency to demand intellectual property and trade secrets from American tech companies in exchange for access to the Chinese market—and has sought to punish smartphone makers Huawei and ZTE for a litany of violations including alleged espionage and “backdoor” spying software in their products.

Russia has been a problem for the U.S. in the last few years for a different reason—influencing U.S. elections with the targeted spread of misinformation—but using the same tool: the internet.

At least, that’s how former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter frames it.

“China has always been imitating American business, since they came out of their Maoist shell. But then theft is the sincerest form of imitation, shall we say, and that’s not okay. And the internet greatly enables that. That’s our principal beef with China,” Carter tells Yahoo Finance. “Russia is different. If China’s trends are all upward, Russia’s trends are all downward. The only thing they have is to be the spoiler. And the internet is the spoiler’s friend... Russia is the anonymous Twitter guy of the world, too weak to have any other influence but to disrupt other people and be a spoiler. Strategically, that’s a different kind of problem. Both use the internet; different kind of mechanisms.”

Carter served in the Department of Defense under President Clinton, then served on an advisory board to Condoleezza Rice during the George W. Bush administration, and was appointed Defense Secretary by President Obama in 2015. Since leaving the White House in 2017, he has taught classes at Harvard Kennedy School and put out a memoir, “Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon.”

Harvard professor Ash Carter, former U.S. secretary of defense, addresses an audience, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, at a forum called "Perspectives on National Security," at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Carter also compared President Obama to President Trump using the anecdote of defense strategy meetings in the situation room.

Under President Obama, “When I and the chairman left the sit room, I never left without clarity,” Carter says. “We knew what the president decided we had to do. I would find today’s environment very difficult because you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s hard to be consistent and excellent in implementation. It’s one thing if the president doesn’t take your advice. But if you don’t even know what he wants, that’s a whole other problem.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

NFL team owner Shad Khan on doing business in China: ‘You have to respect the norms’

NBA faces major political test in China

How Lululemon is avoiding China tariff trouble

Why Apple, Nike, Budweiser, and Starbucks all need to worry in China

'Tariff-proof': One class of recent IPOs is seen as immune to the trade war