Hacking becomes sticking point after Obama-Xi summit

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Cybersecurity and the threat posed by Chinese hackers provided the main source of discord in the otherwise amicable meeting in the California desert over the weekend between President Obama and new Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a summit that set a standard for informality and direct exchanges between the leaders of the globe’s two biggest economies.

Summing up the talks for the U.S. side, Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s outgoing national security adviser, said during a post-summit briefing with reporters that Mr. Obama gave his Chinese counterpart an unusually frank and detailed account of cyberattacks and intellectual property he said was coming from Beijing, while Mr. Xi and his colleagues insisted China itself was a victim, not a perpetrator, of cyber-based attacks.

The two leaders appeared to have more fruitful discussions on curbing North Korea’s nuclear programs and economic development issues, but cybersecurity appeared to be a real sticking point.

Mr. Obama told Mr. Xi that “if [cybersecurity] is not addressed, if it continues to be this direct theft of United States property, that this was going to be a very difficult problem in the economic relationship and was going to be an inhibitor to the relationship really reaching its full potential,” according to Mr. Donilon.

But Yang Jiechi, Mr. Xi’s senior foreign policy adviser, gave a very different recap of the meeting, telling reporters that China is not responsible for recent attacks on U.S. public and private computer networks.

“Cybersecurity should not become the root cause of mutual suspicion and frictions between our two countries,” Mr. Yang said. “Rather, it should be a new bright spot in our cooperation.”

The leaders “did not shy away from differences,” said Mr. Yang, but Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi “blazed a new trail” in the relationship between their countries.

The differences over cyberespionage were apparent even in the public statements of the two principals during the summit, which included some eight hours of direct talks over two days at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., once owned by publisher Walter Annenberg.

Mr. Xi tried to turn the tables on Mr. Obama over digital security Friday night by again claiming that China is a “victim” of cyberattacks, amid reports that the Obama administration is developing secret plans for global cyberwarfare.

Mr. Xi, who took over as president in March, decried media reports that “might give people the sense or feeling that cybersecurity as a threat mainly comes from China.”

China is a victim of cyberattacks and we hope that earnest measures can be taken to resolve this matter,” he told reporters, with Mr. Obama at his side. Mr. Xi said he wanted to dispel America’s “misgivings” about China’s alleged role in cyberhacking.

There have been numerous reports in recent months of China launching sophisticated cyberattacks against U.S. weapons systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as accusations of the theft of corporate secrets. China has denied the allegations.

Mr. Obama, confronting a growing scandal about his own administration’s digital surveillance on U.S. citizens, didn’t accuse China publicly of hacking America’s military or corporate secrets. Instead, he called for “common rules of the road” over international cyberhacking, and said China should be America’s partner in such an effort.

“As China continues in its development process and more of its economy is based on research and innovation and entrepreneurship, they’re going to have similar concerns, which is why I believe we can work together on this rather than at cross-purposes,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Xi was greeted at the approach to the exclusive estate in Southern California by hundreds of protesters, including demonstrators calling for the liberation of Tibet, members of the Falun Gong, and Vietnamese protesting about disputed islands in the South China Sea. Temperatures in the region climbed to more than 110 degrees.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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