Table of Contents


Chen Dongxiao

“Managing U.S.-China Tensions Over Public Cyber Attribution” is the second joint research publication produced by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) in collaboration with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). The first joint publication, “China-U.S. Cyber-Nuclear C3 Stability,” launched in April 2021, has presented an insightful analysis on China-U.S. cyber and nuclear security, offering many valuable policy recommendations for both governments, thus garnering high attention from the policy community and academia in both China and the United States. Inspired by the first concerted effort, SIIS and CEIP task forces carried out further studies and presented their latest findings in this compilation. With high respect, I applaud their unremitting efforts and collaborative spirit in accomplishing this informative publication of valuable academic and policy reference.

Public attribution is an important yet sensitive issue in cyberspace interaction between China and the United States. While gaps exist between the two countries’ understanding of the issue (especially over the origin of the dispute, policy toward each other, cybersecurity accountability, and approaches to dispute settlement), such divergences have posed a growing negative impact on maintaining stable and healthy China-U.S. relations, both in this area and in broader terms. Building upon their expertise gained in long-term studies, SIIS and CEIP task forces spent over half a year to conduct comprehensive, in-depth, and constructive research through discussion and dialogue. They authored six articles on key issues of public attribution from different perspectives and worked together on the conclusion and recommendations. I believe this compilation will be one of the most pioneering and enlightening findings in the domain of public attribution for the reference of both countries’ stakeholders in building stable and sound China-U.S. relations in cyberspace.

It is not only their expertise both teams have exhibited, but also the collaborative spirit and mutual trust they have built throughout the project that highlights this work. China-U.S. relations have entered a new phase characterized by emerging challenges to be addressed and increasing divergences to be managed. The success of this project proves that China and the United States together are capable of finding pragmatic and practical solutions to meet today’s challenges with expertise, cooperation, and trust.

SIIS attaches great importance to the study of cybersecurity and emerging technology. The Research Center for Global Cyberspace Governance was founded under SIIS in 2018 in a joint effort by the National Defense University, Fudan University, Nanjing University, Xiamen University, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, among other leading universities and think tanks in China. To this day, the center has participated in the UN’s rule-making process in cyberspace and several international projects of public influence at home and abroad. This compilation is yet another important output of this center. I congratulate the authors of this report and would also like to thank Xu Weidi, Du Yuejin, Li Yan, Li Bin, Lyu Jinghua, Lang Ping, Xu Longdi, Hui Zhibin, Cai Cuihong, Shen Yi, Zhu Lixin, and Dai Lina for their contribution and advice. Lastly and most importantly, my gratitude goes to the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) for its generous support.

Chen Dongxiao, President of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies

Tino Cuéllar

Among the many factors that will shape global security and prosperity in the rest of the twenty-first century, the relationship between China and the United States looms especially large. Together, both countries constitute approximately 52 percent of global military spending, and almost 35 percent of global GDP.1 If relations between the world’s two largest economies and military powers become increasingly adversarial and akin to a zero-sum game, the world will almost certainly witness decades of a more costly and dangerous arms race, greater economic risk, more strained efforts to cooperate on innovation and lasting solutions on climate change and other global challenges, and more tenuous security. The people of both countries––along with populations in other countries that could become sites of fierce competition––will face a more uncertain and potentially dangerous future. Conversely, if the United States and China can take even modest and measured steps to redress each other’s concerns without casting aside core interests, their citizens and the rest of the world can rebuild confidence in the possibility of a safer and more prosperous future. Today such an approach may be difficult to imagine given that the two countries have both divergent interests as well as common challenges. Without sustained and tenacious effort to pursue such cooperation, however, it stands no chance.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace endeavors to foster sensible cooperation and dialogue through in-depth research, timely analysis, and candid dialogue. Working with partner organizations throughout the world––in this case, the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies––our scholars can help the world better understand Chinese and American perceptions of daunting issues facing each country and the world. We can help both sides discern their differences and more thoroughly identify their interests––better than either can under the status quo or in response to more adversarial frameworks for relations. Over the course of a four-year project that resulted in the publication of the pathbreaking “China-U.S. Cyber-Nuclear C3 Stability” paper, researchers and advisers from the two organizations demonstrated this willingness and capacity to cooperate in a world that calls for robust communication as well as candor about divergent views.

Now our institutions have again worked together to better understand how the United States and China approach crucial questions concerning public accusations about the conduct of cyber operations they consider unacceptable, and what each country might do to mitigate both the causes and the unwelcome effects of public attribution. The papers and conclusions in this collection emerged from a series of video discussions between the two groups, which informed the authors’ early drafts. These drafts were the subjects of subsequent video conferences and written comments by all participants. Each paper represents the authors’ own views; we did not seek to obtain agreement or consensus on them. The conclusion and recommendations were broadly acceptable to all participants, though we did not negotiate each word.

I extend my appreciation to the project leaders, authors, and advisers from both organizations, and (for the English-language version) the superb editorial and production team at Carnegie. We also thank the Hewlett Foundation, whose support made Carnegie’s contribution to “Managing U.S.-China Tensions Over Public Cyber Attribution” possible. The talent and good will of the people from both our institutions and those who support us help demonstrate how it remains possible to achieve a candid exchange of ideas, diplomatic engagement, and genuine collaboration to understand and mitigate differences.

Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuéllar, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


1 Nan Tian, “Military Expenditure,” in SIPRI Yearbook 2021: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021),; and “GDP Based on PPP, Share of World,” International Monetary Fund, 2021,