Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US-China Cybersecurity Talks: Will Snowden Leaks Thwart US Goals?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US-China Cybersecurity Talks: Will Snowden Leaks Thwart US Goals?

Article excerpt

The Obama administration has a long agenda for this week's US- China strategic and economic dialogue in Washington, but topping the list of US concerns is Chinese theft of intellectual property - a practice President Obama believes could destroy the product innovation that is the core of American economic strength.

"It's something the US side will focus on like a laser beam," says Kenneth Lieberthal, a former National Security Council senior director for Asia and now a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

When Mr. Obama met with new Chinese President Xi Jinping in southern California last month, he explained at length how the hacking of US corporations to steal their industrial secrets and product innovations "strikes right at the core of American economic interests," Mr. Lieberthal says.

One result is that cybersecurity will be at the heart of two days of high-level "dialogue" between the two global powers - also the No. 1 and No. 2 economic powers - beginning Wednesday morning. Demonstrating the importance of the issue to both sides, a new US- China cybersecurity working group had its inaugural meeting Monday as part of a run-up to this week's annual dialogue.

A potential complication for US aims in this dialogue is the Edward Snowden affair, which burst onto the international stage since the Obama-Xi summit. The former NSA contractor's revelations of US spying on Chinese institutions and hacking into Chinese databases could offer the Chinese with a convenient foil for deflecting the Obama administration's cybertheft concerns, some experts in relations between the two countries say.

But senior administration officials insist the two issues are "apples and oranges" and that the US will not allow questions of spying among international partners to be confused with the specific threat of economic damage from intellectual property theft.

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It's not clear the Chinese see things the same way, however. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua has called the US claim of cyber- victimization "bizarre," and last month declared that Mr. Snowden's revelations about US hacking into Chinese companies and a university data base "demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyberattacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age."

US officials say the new cyber working group demonstrates that the issue is important to both countries. "We want to continue to ensure that a strong regime is in place to protect out intellectual property rights," says a senior administration official, who spoke about this week's strategic and economic dialogue, or "S&E D" in diplomatic speak, on condition of anonymity.

An annual senior dialogue with the Chinese was started under President George W. …

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