In 2020 fall, a concerning revelation came to light at the National Security Agency. It was uncovered that Chinese military hackers had successfully breached classified defence networks belonging to the United States’ crucial strategic partner in East Asia, Japan. This breach reportedly had grave implications as the People’s Liberation Army’s cyberspies managed to gain extensive access to Japan’s highly sensitive computer systems.
The Chinese hackers had established a deep presence within the compromised networks with motives that appeared to revolve around obtaining any valuable information within reach, including military plans, capabilities, and assessments of weaknesses, media reports said.
Three former senior US officials revealed the matter under the condition of anonymity, media reports said. The incident was considered highly concerning by those who were briefed on it. “It was bad — shockingly bad,” a former US military official said.
Tokyo had taken measures to bolster its network security. However, the efforts fell short of being adequately shielded from Beijing. This deficiency raised concerns about potential hindrances to effective intelligence-sharing between Japan’s Defense Ministry and the Pentagon.
The 2020 breach was severe enough to prompt Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of the NSA and US Cyber Command, along with Matthew Pottinger, the White House deputy national security adviser at the time, to travel to Tokyo and personally brief high-ranking Japanese officials.
China’s impact and Japanese reaction
The breach was considered one of the most damaging cyberattacks in Japan’s modern history, causing deep concern among Japanese officials. Despite their commitment to investigating the matter, there was a sense that the issue might dissipate over time, especially as the incoming Biden administration faced numerous pressing matters.