- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2015

President Obama will honor Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday with a 21-gun salute and a state dinner at the White House amid growing tensions over China’s cyberplundering of U.S. government secrets, relentless industrial espionage, human rights crackdowns and an aggressive confrontation with an American spy plane.

The red carpet treatment for Mr. Xi, who arrived Thursday night in Washington for a private dinner with Mr. Obama at Blair House, comes as the administration acknowledged this week that hackers who stole security dossiers from the Office of Personnel Management also got the fingerprints of 5.6 million federal employees. That’s about five times more fingerprints than previously disclosed in the massive hack, which intelligence agencies blame on the Chinese.

Mr. Obama and his top advisers have threatened sanctions against Chinese firms, and the president said he intends to raise the issue of cyberhacking with Mr. Xi.

But as the summit begins, it’s unclear whether Mr. Obama will go beyond tough talk.

“The ultimate substitute for serious policy in Washington, D.C., is an expression of indignation,” said David Asher of the Center for New American Security and a former senior State Department adviser for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. He said the situation calls for “straight talk” backed up by U.S. action that will “contain and disrupt and counter certain Chinese activities that are affecting our interest.”

A private industry security specialist said China’s intelligence services are collecting the stolen personal data to compile a massive Facebook-like network.

CrowdStrike founder Dmitri Alperovitch told Fox News this week that Chinese hackers are using information gained from the OPM breaches and intrusions into the Anthem and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield health insurance networks to build a complete profile of federal employees in what the company calls a “Facebook of Everything,” with an eye toward blackmail and recruitment of spies.

Upon his arrival in the U.S., Mr. Xi told American business leaders in Seattle that China isn’t responsible for the cyberattacks.

China is a staunch defender of cybersecurity,” he said. “The Chinese government will not engage in commercial theft or encourage such attempts by anyone.”

Asked whether the administration is nearing a deal with China on cybersecurity, White House press secretary Josh Earnest would only say Thursday that China’s conduct “will feature prominently on the agenda.” He said Mr. Xi’s pledge not to engage in cyberespionage “certainly is not going to reduce the priority that we place on trying to make progress on those issues in the context of the meetings that are coming up in the next 36 hours.”

U.S. officials also say that Mr. Obama intends to express his deep concern to Mr. Xi about China’s move to reclaim disputed islands in the South China Sea and about the Chinese government’s repression of political dissidents.

The Pentagon said a Chinese aircraft performed a dangerous pass during an air intercept of a U.S. spy plane last week. The near-collision occurred Sept. 15 over the Yellow Sea and involved an American RC-135 electronic intelligence-gathering jet.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he didn’t know about the incident, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, but said China is committed to safety in the air and the sea.

China has consistently dedicated itself to maintaining maritime and air safety in accordance with international laws and norms and to establishing mutual military trust with other countries to appropriately manage differences,” he told reporters.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said last week’s intercept was not similar to an August 2014 incident in which a Chinese warplane flew as close as 20 to 30 feet to a Navy patrol jet and conducted a barrel roll over it.

But it was the latest in a series of moves by China seen as an assertion of the expanding reach of its military. This month, five Chinese navy ships sailed in the Bering Sea off Alaska as Mr. Obama toured the state.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said last week’s intercept was part of a “pattern of aggressive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region” by China.

“That this flight came amid negotiations of rules for air-to-air encounters and just one week ahead of President Xi’s arrival in the United States raises further questions about China’s intentions and the Obama administration’s response thus far,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.

Mr. Xi’s visit also could serve to bolster his position at home, where the recent plunge in China’s stock market has prompted the government to intervene and also embark on a broad anti-corruption crackdown. The Chinese leader said his campaign at home is not about factional infighting.

“We have punished tigers and flies. It has nothing to do with power struggles,” he said. “In this case, there is no ‘House of Cards.’”

Mr. Obama and his guest also will hold a joint press conference, planned for the Rose Garden, on Friday afternoon. Then the president will host and toast Mr. Xi at a black-tie state dinner Friday night.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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