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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But first here’s my take. Vladimir Putin might be a 19th century statesman using old fashioned muscle to get his way but this week it has become that China’s president, Xi Jinping, goes one step further, comfortably embracing both the 19th and the 21st century. This also means that the challenge from China is going to be more complex than one the United States has ever faced before.

Let’s start with the 19th century aspect, the huge Sino-Russian natural gas deal signed this week is perfectly understandable in terms of old-fashioned real politics. Beijing has long sought secure energy supplies and it places that vital interest above any desire to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea or strengthen global norms against aggression. In fact, the Chinese recognize that the Russians facing sanctions were anxious to diversify away from their dependence on European customers and so Beijing probably got a good deal.

While the gas agreement has received all the attention, it’s also worth studying Xi’s future Shanghai, given the same day that the deal was struck. The venue was the gathering of an obscure Asian regional group, the one that includes Turkey, Iran and Russia, and not the United States. His message was that Asians should take care of their own security. Xi presented the Chinese view of the region, which he calls Asia and never the preferred U.S. term Asia Pacific. That term excludes the United States and implies that Washington as an outside power should not play a major role in Asian affairs. But this week, we also saw a new world of great power intrigue. The Justice Department filed former charges against five officials in the Chinese military and detailed the economic espionage that they allegedly have conducted against American companies over the last eight years.

The action is unprecedented, especially since these officials are never going to be arrested and will probably never leave China, and no one believes it will make a difference because the Chinese officials aren’t likely to face any kind of sanction at home. In fact if anything, they might regard being on this list as a badge of honor.

Now some experts believe that the scale of China’s cyber espionage is staggering. Quote, “It is the largest theft in human history,” unquote, says Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution. And he points to one specific example. The United States will spend about a trillion dollars developing, operating and maintaining the F-35 fighter which will be its most advanced weapon system.

Singer says, “We can now see clearly that elements of the F-35 have made their way into a similar Chinese plane. American investments that were meant to give it a 15-year battlefield advantage have been totally undermined.”

And Singer points out, China targets everyone from defense contractors down to small furniture makers whose chair designs get stolen and copied within a year.

Cyber attacks are part of a new messy chaotic world fueled by globalization and the information revolution in a wired networked world, it is much harder to shut down this kind of activity and it certainly will not be possible to do it using traditional mechanisms of national security. Notice that Washington is using a legal mechanism, which will be ineffective and largely symbolic for what is really a national security issue.

The Sino-Russian gas deal reminds us that traditional geopolitics is alive and well and Washington knows how to work its way in that world, but cyber espionage represents a new frontier and no one really has ideas, tools or strategies to properly address this challenge.

CNN.com – Transcripts

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