Actually, This is Not a Story About Chinese Hackers

By: Shane Harris

Here's proof that not everything coming from China these days is bad for the U.S. news business. 

At first glance, I thought this article in today's print edition of the Wall Street Journal (photo above) was another story about Chinese cyber spies. That wouldn't be surprising, since the paper has been on the receiving end of Chinese espionage and routinely covers that subject. 

Look closer, though, and you'll see this article actually is a paid advertisement by China Watch, which is prepared by China Daily, a state-controlled publication that has taken out similar ads in the Washington Post, and the New York Times, both of which claim, like the Journal, that they were hacked by Chinese sources. 

The advertisement in the Journal is a mostly laudatory take about Lenovo Group, which the ad says surpassed U.S.-based Hewlett-Packard last year as the world's largest manufacturer of personal computers, "the first time a Chinese company has taken the industry lead." 

I've seen China Daily's stand-alone newspaper floating through my office over the past few years. It's a quite dependable publication: Dependably uncritical of Chinese authorities, and unfailingly enthusiastic about Chinese business interests in the United States. James Fallows, a seasoned China watcher, has a long-running and very amusing appreciation of the state-run enterprise on his blog. 

Not that I had expected to see it, but there's no mention in the advertisement that the Obama administration believes China is the source of "an onslaught" of cyber break-ins and industrial espionage targeted at U.S. technology companies. 

However, China Daily this month has run several articles refuting a report by computer security firm Mandiant that one of the most prolific Chinese hacker groups is run by the country's military. Those articles cite Chinese officials, such as a military spokesman, and other Chinese media. The Journal, and other U.S. news organizations, have covered these denials. Another recent article in China Daily claimed "that China is actually the real victim of cyber attacks," citing statistics from a Chinese computer network center that appeared in Xinhua, the official Chinese press agency.  

The Post got dinged a few years ago by the Nieman Journalism Lab for not more clearly showing that the China Daily copy was paid advertisement/advertorial. Today's ad in the Journal carries a disclaimer that it "did not involve the news or editorial departments" of the newspaper.  

China Daily only took up about three-fourths of the page. But the bottom quarter has an ad from Air China, promoting it's non-stop New York-to-Bejing service for business executives.