WASHINGTON • Senior officials from the United States and China have concluded four days of meetings on cyber security and other issues, ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Washington later this month.
Cyber security has been a divisive issue between Washington and Beijing, with the US accusing Chinese hackers of attacks on US computers, a charge China denies.
US President Barack Obama last Friday warned Chinese leaders that if they competed rather than cooperated in cyberspace, the US would win. He said he intended to speak to the Chinese president about China's cyber attacks during Mr Xi's visit to the White House.
COOPERATION, NOT COMPETITION
We've 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.'
US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, referring to hacking in cyberspace.
The administration has determined that China was behind the theft of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans from the databases of the Office of Personnel Management, but it is still struggling to formulate a response that does not prompt an escalating cyber conflict.
"We've 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," Mr Obama said.
"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.'"
The President said the US would have to respond more rapidly to cyber attacks, which would require a coordinated response from the military, intelligence agencies and the private sector.
US National Security Adviser Susan Rice had a "frank and open exchange about cyber issues" in her meeting last week with Mr Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, the White House said in a statement last Friday.
The Chinese delegation also had meetings with Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and representatives from the Justice, State and Treasury departments and the intelligence community, the statement said.
China's official Xinhua news agency said that Mr Meng, who is the country's domestic security chief, had reached "important consensus" with the US during his visit.
Both countries agree it is "vital" that they cooperate on fighting hacking, Mr Meng said, adding that China will punish anyone who hacks from within China's borders or steals corporate secrets.
"China's position on opposing hacking and stealing commercial secrets online is resolute," Xinhua cited Mr Meng as saying.
China reacted angrily last Friday to remarks by US director of national intelligence James Clapper, who told a House intelligence committee hearing the day earlier that "Chinese cyber espionage continues to target a broad spectrum of US interests, ranging from national security information to sensitive economic data and US intellectual property".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing: "Maintaining cyber security should be a point of cooperation rather than a source of friction between both China and the United States.
"We hope that the US stops its groundless attacks against China, start dialogue based on a foundation of mutual respect, and jointly build a cyberspace that is peaceful, secure, open and cooperative."
But Beijing's top diplomat took a softer line on the issue in an interview published last Friday in the state-run China Daily, saying both sides could cooperate and work with other countries on global cyber security rules in a spirit of respect.
"China and the United States actually can make cyber security a point of cooperation," State Councilor Yang Jiechi said in the interview, which focused on Mr Xi's state visit to the US.
"We hope China, the United States and other countries could work together to work out the rules for cyber security in the international arena in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," said Mr Yang, who outranks the foreign minister.
Mr Yang noted, as Chinese officials regularly do, that China was itself a hacking victim, and said suspected cases should be investigated and handled "on a solid, factual basis".
His comments were not a direct reaction to Mr Clapper's.
On another point of friction between the US and China - territorial disputes in the South China Sea - Mr Yang said he hoped the US would stay on the sidelines because it was not part of the disputes.
However, he added: "It is important for both countries to stay in close touch even if they have different perceptions and views."
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES