Only one outsider candidate mentioned cybersecurity during Tuesday’s Democratic primary debate.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) called cyber warfare “our greatest day-to-day threat” during a round of questions from moderator Anderson Cooper, who asked each candidate to rank the greatest national security threat to the United States.
Webb juxtaposed the comment with a reference to the U.S.’s relationship with China, echoing comments he made earlier in the evening that accused Beijing of engaging in cyber warfare against the U.S.
“To the unelected, authoritarian government of China: You do not own the South China Sea. You do not have the right to conduct cyber warfare against tens of millions of American citizens. And in a Webb administration, we will do something about that,” he said.
Webb joins candidates from the Republican primary race who have called for a more hawkish approach to combat China in cyberspace.
In August, GOP hopeful Carly Fiorina called on the U.S. to confront Beijing.
“We ought to make it very painful for the Chinese to be aggressive in cyber warfare,” Fiorina said on “Meet the Press.”
“People have to know that if you are going to mess with us, that not only are we in a position to defend ourselves, but also to come back at them,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said during an Iowa national security forum in September.
Republican candidates, Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP campaign arm outraises Democratic counterpart in September House passes bills to secure telecommunications infrastructure Senators call for answers from US firm over reported use of forced Uyghur labor in China MORE (Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it Australian politician on Cruz, vaccines: 'We don't need your lectures, thanks mate' MORE (Texas), have also been vocal in calling for a more offensive approach to Beijing in cyberspace.
Lawmakers, intelligence officials and policymakers have all expressed the need for a set of coherent definitions for military action in the digital realm.
“We don’t know what constitutes an act of war, what the appropriate response is, what the line is between crime and warfare,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said in September during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on global cyber threats.
China has faced ongoing accusations of espionage on United States interests. Beijing is widely believed to be behind the theft of 21.5 million individuals’ personal data from the Office of Personnel Management.
The U.S. and China have — at least publicly — begun to inch toward a more cooperative relationship in cyberspace, inking a deal in September to halt hacks on private companies. Skeptics say the deal is unenforceable.
Prior to the announcement of the agreement, the two countries were reported to be working on a deal that would define some rules of engagement for cyber warfare.
Under the terms of the now-moot agreement, neither country would be the first to launch cyberattacks on the other’s critical infrastructure, such as power grids or cellphone networks, during peacetime.