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New Chinese Leadership: How it Impacts Cyber Security


The CrowdStrike Intelligence Team is excited to showcase some of the non-technical analysis that we conduct every day. This analysis provides our customers with up-to-date information on strategic issues that might impact the adversaries that target their critical systems. Ten days ago, when all eyes were on the U.S. Presidential election, CrowdStrike Intelligence Analysts were consumed with another electoral process.

On November 15, 2012, the 18th National People’s Congress (NPC) completed its 10-day long conclave, which traditionally meets every 5 years in Beijing to usher in the next top leader of China. The next president of China, who is also the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is Xi Jinping (习近平).

Chinese Politics

Before diving deep into a biographical analysis of the new President to dissect his personality and political views, it’s imperative to first understand how China operates as a political entity to understand the big picture of China’s politics.

Despite the fact that China is a one-party state controlled by the CCP, the CCP is not homogenous in its politics. The saying in China is, “one party, two coalitions.” The CCP is comprised of two distinct factions: the populists and the princelings.

The populist faction reflects strong allegiance to the CCP and additionally represents the disadvantaged social groups in China (e.g., farmers, migrant workers, urban poor). Some of the top leaders of the populist faction got their start in the Chinese Communist Youth League and became labeled tuanpai, which means “league faction.”

Former President Hu Jintao continues to lead the populist faction alongside of former Premier Wen Jiabao. Conversely, a princeling is a child of China’s first generation of revolution heroes and leaders. The princelings primarily start their careers in China’s economically advanced coastal cities.

As a result of their privileged aristocratic lifestyles, the princelings typically promote economic reform and represent entrepreneurs’ interests. Former President Jiang Zemin formed this elitist faction with the help of the following two leaders: Wu Bangguo, former chairman of the national legislature, and Jia Qinglin, former head of a national political advisory body.  

The Politburo Standing Committee is the sole decision-making body of the CCP, housing the top 7 to 9 leaders of China. In the eyes of the CCP, the president is seen as an equal amongst the Standing Committee members.

China’s current political system is a collective leadership as reflected in the Standing Committee, preventing one leader from usurping too much power as historically reflected during the Mao Zedong era. The president must build consensus amongst the Standing Committee members in order to set policy agendas and reach policy solutions.

How are the president and Standing Committee members selected? Backroom negotiations. A select group of elite party elders and outgoing party leaders handpick the president, as well as the 7 to 9 Standing Committee members who will then be appointed to serve on the upcoming 5-year term.

Each Standing Committee member is appointed based on his close patron relationship to a current or past leader. It’s an unspoken rule that each appointed Standing Committee member pays tribute to his patron by promoting the patron’s political ideology and policy stance. These patrons are primarily made up of the aforementioned party “elders,” Mr. Jiang, Mr. Wu, Mr. Jia, Mr. Wen, and Mr. Hu, all of whom battle to maintain political power within the CCP.

During Hu Jintao’s leadership, the Standing Committee was split 5-4, with 4 seats representing the populist coalition and the remaining 5 reflecting the elitist faction. With the completion of the 10-day conclave of the new 18th NPC, China announced the shift from 9 to 7 seats, which suggests reining in power and eliminating threatening actors, including Liu Yuanchao and Wang Yang, who were proponents of political reform and change.


The Standing Committee

The newest lineup of the 7 Standing Committee members only includes two members who are tuanpai, although one of them is a close comrade of Jiang Zemin, which creates a 6-1 princeling to tuanpai split.

Below are the the 7 Standing Committee members who will lead China for the next five years:


Xi Jinping (President, General Secretary, Chairman) 习近平


Princeling: Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was a revolutionary leader under Mao Zedong. Xi Jinping has experience running both rural and metropolitan regions. He experienced rural politics as county deputy secretary in Zhengding, Hebei province, as well as led economically advanced regions, including Fujian, Zhejiang, and Shanghai. Xi Jinping is expected to support policies that develop the private sector, including liberalizing foreign investment, trade, and China’s financial system.


Li Keqiang (Premier of the NPC)李克强

Populist: Li was a member of the Communist Youth League and is considered part of President Hu Jintao’s tuanpai faction.

Zhang Dejiang,  张德江, Princeling

Yu Zhengshen, 俞正声, Princeling

Liu Yunshan, 刘云山, Tuanpai

Wang Qishan, 王岐山, Princeling

Zhang Gaoli, 张高丽, Tuanpai (however, Jiang Zemin’s protégé)

Did the change in leadership affect China’s national cybersecurity and espionage policies? At this time it’s hard to say because China’s cyber information agencies and organizations are cloaked in secrecy.  Equally as important, what is known about China’s cyber espionage programs? The PLA, Ministry of Science and Technology, National Crypto Management Center, State Secrecy Bureau, Ministry of Public Security, certain state-owned information security companies, and universities help wage China’s cyber espionage campaign.

Cyber Espionage and the State

According to the Project 2049 Institute, the State Informatization Leading Group (SILG, 与信息安全), comprised of senior representatives of the CCP Central Committee, Politburo, State Council, and PLA, advises senior political leaders on computer network operations policies.
Specifically, the Second Bureau of the General Staff Department’s Third Department within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Shanghai primarily targets and exploits U.S. computer networks, which is comparable to the U.S.’s National Security Agency (NSA). The PLA wages cyber warfare and espionage through its “Third Department” that houses high-level computer programmers, linguists, and code breakers.
The Third Department’s central electronic intelligence unit within the Chinese military is the Beijing North Computing Center (BNCC), which is the Chinese equivalent to the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command. The BNCC is involved in exploitation of foreign networks and denying an adversary access to his networks.
The PLA and aforementioned Chinese government entities leverage relationships with regional universities with strong information security programs to acquire sensitive data and local talent for its national agenda in the cyber arena. For example, Sichuan University’s Institute of Information Security supports the Chengdu information security base and Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Information Security supports the Shanghai base. There’s active cooperation between Peking University’s department of Computer Science Laboratory of Information Security and the security unit of the General Staff of the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Security and Secrecy Bureau.



China is waging a consolidated cyber warfare effort against the U.S. government, certain U.S. industries, think tanks, media outlets, and academic institutions. The web of China’s cyber espionage network is elaborate, intricate, and prosperous.

It’s imperative for the U.S. to engage China’s new leadership on cyber espionage. It will not only take the U.S. government to fight against China’s cyber espionage at the national policy level, but it’s also imperative for the private sector to lead the fight against foreign cyber adversaries.

To that end, one of the most effective ways to arm your organization is to leverage intelligence in a cyber defense strategy. At CrowdStrike, intelligence powers everything we do. For information on how you can leverage the CrowdStrike Intelligence Team to power your business decisions and enterprise defense, please contact us at intelligence@CrowdStrike.com.

CrowdStrike would like to acknowledge the incredible work by the Project 2049 Institute and we encourage you to read their reporting if you are interested in the Chinese strategic agenda.


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