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China, US gradually move to manage cyberspace disputes

By Chen Weihua | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-09-14 11:05

While cybersecurity has been a thorny issue between China and the United States in the last few years, there are signs in the past days that both sides do not want it to spill into the overall bilateral relationship and impact negatively on the upcoming state visit to the US by President Xi Jinping.

A high-level Chinese delegation, led by Meng Jianzhu, Xi's special envoy and a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China (CPC), concluded a four-day talk on the issue in Washington last Saturday with senior US officials.

"The two countries have reached important consensus on combating cyber crimes," was how Xinhua News Agency described the meeting.

During the visit, Meng, also head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee, exchanged in-depth views on tackling outstanding issues of law enforcement and security, including cyber crimes, with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and US National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

The Chinese delegation included officials from the ministries of public security, state security, justice and information technology.

China and the US are both countries with highly developed Internet technology. Against a backdrop of frequent incidents and ever-increasing security threats in cyberspace, it is especially important for the two to enhance mutual trust and cooperation in the sphere of cybersecurity, Xinhua quoted Meng as saying.

Meng reiterated China's firm stand against cyberattacks and commercial cyber espionage. He said anyone who conducts such acts in the Chinese territory violates the laws of China and will be subject to legal liability.

Meng said China-US dialogue and cooperation on combating cyber crime serve the common interest of both countries and the international community.

A White House statement said Rice had a "frank and open exchange about cyber issues" in her meeting with Meng.

Before Meng's trip, Zhang Yesui, Chinese executive vice-minister of foreign affairs and several other senior Chinese officials have visited the US, while Rice, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and other senior US officials have visited China to prepare for Xi's trip late this month.

These visits have been seen as indications that both sides want to make Xi's trip a success despite issues such as cyber hacking and tensions over the South China Sea having cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship.

White House and State Department spokesmen have both spoken positively about Xi's trip.

In a statement after Rice's trip to Beijing in late August, the National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said that Rice in her meeting with Xi reaffirmed US commitment to develop and deepen practical cooperation in areas of overlapping interest and to address disagreements forthrightly and effectively.

There has been widespread concern that tensions over cybersecurity could escalate after a Washington Post report on Aug 30 saying that the Obama administration is considering applying sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals it believes have benefited from hacking of US trade secrets. It said the sanctions could come as quickly as the coming two weeks.

Both White House and State Department spokesmen have downplayed the report, describing such sanctions as a tool in the toolbox and dismissing that the US has decided to retaliate on alleged Chinese cyber theft.

Many observers have seen the Post report as a message deliberately leaked by the White House to call for more attention for the Chinese side.

On Friday, Obama said during his visit to Fort Meade, Maryland, that "we have made very clear to the Chinese that there are certain practices that they're engaging in that we know are emanating from China and are not acceptable".

"And we can choose to make this an area of competition - which I guarantee you we'll win if we have to - or, alternatively, we can come to an agreement in which we say, this isn't helping anybody; let's instead try to have some basic rules of the road in terms of how we operate," Obama said at Fort Meade, also home to the National Security Agency (NSA).

China has long claimed to be a victim of cyberattacks, many of which originated from the US. Revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have shown that the US has been conducting aggressive and wide-ranging cyber espionage in the world, including against the Chinese government, universities and corporations.

Targets of US cyber espionage also have included leaders and corporations in Germany, France, Japan and Brazil, most of which are US allies.

Most countries, including China, have regarded such US cyber surveillance activities as unacceptable.

As a result, US technology companies, which have been willingly and unwillingly collaborative with NSA, also have become victims of US government activities.

A June report by the Washington-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said the NSA's pervasive digital surveillance will likely cost US companies more than $35 billion in foreign business in 2016 after Snowden's revelations pushed foreigners away from US-made technologies.

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