China hits back on cybersecurity, urges US to respect facts

US Secretary of State John Kerry (right) shakes hands with Vice Premier of China Wang Yang after closing remarks of the 2015 US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (right) shakes hands with Vice Premier of China Wang Yang after closing remarks of the 2015 US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. PHOTO: EPA

Beijing urged Washington to "respect facts" on cybersecurity at the close of a high-level summit on Wednesday, responding to several American leaders that had raised concerns about China's cyber espionage.

During his closing speech at the seventh US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Chinese State councilor Yang Jiechi stressed that Beijing was firmly opposed to cyber hacking.

"On cyber issues, China affirmed its firm opposition on all forms of cyber hacking as well as China's readiness for cooperation with the United States on cyber security on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," he said through an interpreter.

"China urged the US to respect facts and work together with China to improve the cyber relations between the two countries," Mr Yang added.

Cybersecurity issues had been an especially contentious area in this week's talks, given the recent claims from the US that China-based hackers had compromised millions of files of current and former federal employees. Though Washington has not directly accused Beijing of being involved in the hacking, numerous American leaders had raised concerns about cybersecurity.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama once again raised the issue with Chinese leaders. A statement from the White House said that President Obama "raised ongoing US concerns about China's cyber and maritime behaviour, and he urged China to take concrete steps to lower tensions" during a meeting that included Vice-Premier Liu Yandong and Vice-Premier Wang Yang.

Mr Yang also had strong words for the US on maritime issues in the South China Sea.

"We hope the US can be impartial and objective" in the region, he said while stressing that he did not foresee any problem with navigation freedom in the South China Sea.

"Navigation freedom in the South China Sea is guaranteed," he said.

He also reaffirmed China's policy of negotiating directly with claimants and said it would work with Asean to advance the consultation on the Code of Conduct.

He also urged the US to "handle differences and sensitive issues with caution".

"China stressed that it is important for the US to respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, respect the development path chosen by the Chinese people," he said.

The remarks came at the end of a summit that was notable for the attempts by both sides to assert their position on contentious issues while also showing that they could work together.

Environmental issues continued to be a key area of cooperation for both sides and they announced that they would not work together to protect the oceans.

At the closing press conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry played down the differences between the two sides. He said there was an honest discussion on cybersecurity but no direct confrontation. He added that the two countries agreed there needs to be a common set of standards on the matter.

"We need to work together in order to define those and then live by them," he said.