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Xi, Obama tread carefully on cyber espionage

President Barack Obama walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands on Saturday, in Rancho Mirage, California.

‘Hacking not to be confused with data collection’

President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were wrapping up a two-day summit at which they tackled the contentious issue of cyber-security and tried to forge closer ties between the leaders of the world’s largest economies.

First meeting

Nearly two hours were set aside on Saturday at a California desert estate for the leaders to continue discussing a range of issues. Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi met for several hours on Friday evening, their first meeting since Mr. Xi took office in March.

The two treaded carefully and avoided directly accusing each other of cyber-espionage. Mr. Obama described the cyber issue as “uncharted waters”. But they acknowledged an urgent need to find a common approach to addressing the matter.

“We don’t have the kind of protocols that have governed military issues and arms issues, where nations have a lot of experience in trying to negotiate what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference with Mr. Xi late on Friday.

The question-and-answer session with reporters was bookended by more than two hours of private talks and a working dinner.

U.S. officials cast the more relaxed California summit as an opportunity for the two to hold candid and free-flowing talks on the myriad issues that define the relationship, including the economy, climate change and North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Because of advances in technology, the issue of cyber-security and need for rules and a common approach for cyber-security are going to be increasingly important, said Mr. Obama.

He said it was critical that the U.S. and China reach a “firm understanding” on cyber issues. But he stopped short of accusing China of orchestrating hacking attacks on American government and business computers.

Mr. Xi claimed no responsibility for China’s alleged actions. He said his nation was also a victim of cyber-spying, but did not assign any blame. The discussion on international cyber-spying was juxtaposed with new revelations that the Obama administration is collecting data from U.S. phone and Internet companies.

The President pushed back against the notion that the controversy over the widespread government surveillance undercut his credibility to take on China over cyber-security. He insisted the two issues were separate and said concerns over hacking and intellectual property theft shouldn’t be confused with the debate over how governments collect data to combat terrorist threats.

Double-edged sword

China, too, has concerns about cyber-security, said Mr. Xi, calling new technology a “double-edged sword” that can drive progress while causing headaches for governments and their regulators. Though he said China has been victimised by cybercrimes, he did not specify who may have perpetrated them.

Speaking more broadly, Mr. Xi said he and Mr. Obama believe the two countries can approach each other in a way “that is different from the inevitable confrontation and conflict”.

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Printable version | May 21, 2018 6:28:36 PM |