- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

China this week offered a slightly softer reaction to U.S. allegations of Chinese computer hacking and online theft of trade secrets.

“The security of cyberspace is a global issue, which needs rules and cooperation, instead of a cyberspace war,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Tuesday, a day after a top White House aide cited China’s threat to U.S. cybersecurity.

China is willing, on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and trust, to have constructive dialogue and cooperation on this issue with the international community, including the United States, to maintain the security, openness and peace of the Internet,” she added, according to the official China Daily newspaper.

Ms. Hua was responding to comments by Thomas E. Donilon, President Obama’s national security adviser, who called cybersecurity issues “a growing challenge to our economic relationship with China.”

“From the president on down, this has become a key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments,” Mr. Donilon said during a wide-ranging speech in New York.

Cybersecurity scholars were cautious Wednesday about seeing the Chinese opening as a breakthrough.

“Expect this to take years,” James A Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

Mr. Lewis, a former State Department official who is privy to administration thinking on cybersecurity, added that the litmus test for Chinese seriousness would be an agreement to “sustained formal talks” at the assistant secretary of state level or above and “regular dialogue between senior officials” on the issue.

He warned that the Chinese might require concessions in return for holding back their cyberespionage.

“[I’m] not sure if there are any we could make,” Mr. Lewis said.

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called earlier U.S. claims of Chinese military hacking a politically motivated smear campaign.

“Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve their political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others or whitewash themselves,” Mr. Yang told reporters at a news conference.

“We hope the relevant parties will stop irresponsible attacks or accusations.”

Also Sunday, the official media emphasized new figures showing U.S. hackers behind huge numbers of attacks against Chinese websites.

Over the past two months, more than 11,000 websites in China were attacked by computers from other countries, Beijing’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Coordination Center said Sunday. It blamed one-third of these attacks on American hackers.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.