Foreign policy observers already cast a wary eye towards China's international rise. As the country's influence grows, other nations will have to contend with the fact that it's the world's number one threat when it comes to Internet security and freedom.
That's the claim that Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt makes in his new book, titled "The New Digital Age," but it's a thought shared by many.
In an exclusive look at the new book, the Wall Street Journal points to passages on China as the book's most riveting content.
Co-written by Jared Cohen, the two authors flatly state that China is not only "the world's most active and enthusiastic filterer of information," but also "the most sophisticated and prolific" hacker of foreign companies and institutions. As more of the world's activities move online, this will give the country a significant advantage in the future.
"The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States as a distinct disadvantage," they wrote. "The United States will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage, as its laws are much stricter (and better enforced) and because illicit competition violates the American sense of fair play."
As the authors note, it's not just that China's government is increasingly likely to use digital espionage to attack other nations. The fact is that companies in China have much closer ties to the government than corporations in other country's around the world; as those companies expand, overtake competitors, and (potentially) dominate markets, China's own influence will grow, too.
"Chinese telecom equipment companies, rapidly gaining market share around the world, are at the front lines of the expansion this sphere of influence, they say: 'Where Huawei gains market share, the influence and reach of China grow as well.'"
Of course, Schmidt and Cohen don't try to paint the United States as innocent in this digital future. They correctly point to Stuxnet, a dangerous computer virus meant to sabotage Iran's nuclear program, as well as other surveillance programs as examples (drones are the obvious bullet point here even if they aren't mentioned in the book). Apparently, though, China's future exploits will be more dangerous to stability, and its power might nudge Western companies closer to their own governments as well.
For what it's worth, Schmidt and Cohen did correctly predict revolutions like the Arab Spring with their last project, an essay titled "The Digital Disruption." In it, they highlighted the potential for civil unrest sparked by easy access to technology.
"Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority," they wrote.
This same context is present in today's China. Despite repeatedly labeling the country as an ominous threat, Schmidt and Cohen think the country's dynamic population could cause the hyper-controlling Communist party plenty of headaches.
"This mix of active citizens armed with technological devices and tight government control is exceptionally volatile," with potential for "widespread instability."
"The New Digital Age" will be released in April.