US 'ready for action against China over cyber attacks'

Obama hints at sanctions ahead of Chinese leader's visit to the US next week

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama warned that his administration was ready to take action against China over online attacks carried out by Beijing or its proxies, publicly raising the spectre of sanctions a week before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in the US for a state visit.

"We are preparing a number of measures that will indicate to the Chinese that this is not just a matter of us being mildly upset, but is something that will put significant strains on the bilateral relationship if not resolved," Mr Obama said on Wednesday during a question-and-answer session with business leaders on economic issues. "We are prepared to take some countervailing actions in order to get their attention."

"My hope," Mr Obama added, "is that it gets resolved short of that."

The remarks seemed calibrated to pressure Mr Xi to agree to address online security concerns. They also seemed to suggest that while sanctions are unlikely to be imposed on China before the summit meeting, it is increasingly likely that some penalties will be imposed afterwards.

Mr Xi will tour Boeing and Microsoft Corp in Seattle on the first stop of his visit next week, state and company officials confirmed on Wednesday.

His itinerary for the Sept 22 to 24 stay in Seattle includes visiting Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Washington, and Boeing's massive factory in Everett. He is expected to make the only policy speech of his US visit in Seattle next Tuesday.

Some US officials are concerned about poisoning the atmosphere for Mr Xi's visit, while some believe that the threat of penalties could help extract concessions.

Dr Patrick Cronin, a director at the Centre for a New American Security, said: "The administration is, on the one hand, looking for as much cooperation as they can get from Xi Jinping and China's leadership and, at the same time, saying, 'Here is the stick of sanctions. We're not going to use it right now... but if we're not satisfied, sanctions will follow.' "

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said yesterday that both countries face "common challenges" on Internet security, making it "especially important for the two sides to increase mutual trust and cooperation in cyberspace". "At the same time, the Chinese government... is resolutely opposed to any statements or actions that harm China's interests," he told reporters at a briefing on Mr Xi's visit.

Mr Obama on Wednesday also expressed optimism that a vast 12-nation Pacific trade deal can be reached before the end of the year. He added that the deal would "make sure that we have a level-playing field for businesses and American workers in the fastest-growing region of the world".

With Congress requiring 90 days to review any accord, a vote is now unlikely before next year even if a deal can be reached. Efforts to move to a final round of talks have also been complicated by elections in Canada on Oct 19 and a change of prime minister in Australia.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'US 'ready for action against China over cyber attacks''. Print Edition | Subscribe