US/China: Cyber Deal, But No Cigar

By Tim Marshall.

The state to state cyber-war treaty America and China are close to agreeing does not look as if it will materialize during the visit of President Xi Jinping to the USA. (See Friday’s W&Y)

It is still in their interests to sign what would be a much needed world first in the internet arms race, but for now they are making do with a ‘common understanding’ on cybercyber spying for commercial gain. President’s Obama and Xi Jinping agreed that neither country would conduct or knowingly support hacking for those purposes.

At their joint press conference Obama said he raised “serious concerns” about growing cyber threats. “I indicated that it has to stop…This is progress, but I have to insist that our work is not yet done.”

The issue had caused friction in the build up to the state visit by Xi and although this ‘common understanding’ has reduced tensions, there is still a long way to go before each side will trust the other. Obama hinted that if the USA catches China red handed sanctions could follow. Xi responded by saying “Overall, the United States is the strongest country in terms of cyber-strength….We have broad common interests but we need to strengthen cooperation and avoid confrontation, and nor should we politicise this issue.”

The other deep issue dividing the two sides is China’s territorial claims in the seas off its borders which include building ‘islands’ out of reefs and claiming them as part of China.

china_usPresident Xi did not give much ground saying that China has “the right to uphold our own sovereignty”. He did however promise respect for freedom of navigation and overflight.

President Obama said he had “candid” discussions with Xi, and “conveyed to President Xi our significant concerns over land reclamation, construction and the militarisation of disputed areas, which makes it harder for countries in the region to resolve disagreements peacefully”.

The public dialogue suggests the two powers are still shadow boxing on the divisions between them. Each is wary of giving anything away but simultaneously aware that they must manage carefully what is the 21stC most important diplomatic relationship.

Today Xi is in New York and on Monday will deliver his first speech to the UN general assembly.

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