c.2013 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — The United States and China have agreed to hold regular, high-level talks on how to set standards of behavior for cybersecurity and commercial espionage, the first diplomatic effort to defuse the tensions over what the United States says is a daily barrage of computer break-ins and theft of corporate and government secrets.
The talks will begin in July. On Friday, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping, who took office this spring, are scheduled to hold an unusual, informal summit meeting in Rancho Mirage, Calif., that could set the tone for their relationship and help them confront chronic tensions like the nuclear threat from North Korea.
U.S. officials say they do not expect the process to immediately yield a significant reduction in the daily intrusions from China. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, has said the attacks have resulted in the “greatest transfer of wealth in history.” Hackers have stolen a variety of secrets, including negotiating strategies and schematics for next-generation fighter jets.
“It is a serious issue that cannot simply be swatted away with talking points,” said a senior U.S. official, who noted that the meetings would focus primarily on the theft of intellectual property from U.S.companies.
The Chinese government has insisted it is a victim of cyberattacks, not a perpetrator, and Chinese officials have vigorously denied the extensive evidence gathered by the Pentagon and private security experts that a unit of the People’s Liberation Army, Unit 61398, outside Shanghai, is behind many of the most sophisticated attacks on the United States.
On Saturday, after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke of a “growing threat of cyberintrusions” at a conference in Singapore, in comments directed at China, a Chinese general gave a tart response about the growing U.S. military presence in Asia.
Another main issue at the meeting will be North Korea. U.S. officials, emerging from talks with Xi and his team, believe the new Chinese leader has less patience for North Korea and little of the sentimental attachment to its leaders that his predecessors had.
“What’s interesting here is the dog that isn’t barking,” the U.S. official said. The Chinese, he noted, are not urging all sides to resume talks until the North Koreans agree that the objective is removing all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. “We’re not hearing the soothing mantra of restraint,” he said.