President Barack Obama plans to raise Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. government and business networks when he meets new Chinese leader Xi Jinping in California this week, White House officials said on Tuesday.
Xi is expected to raise China’s concern about the administration’s so-called pivot to Asia, which includes a military buildup that the Pentagon has avoided saying is directed at China’s growing military power and aggressiveness in territorial claims in the region.
One official who briefed reporters on the meeting set for Friday afternoon at Sunnylands, Calif., said cybersecurity and attacks from nations like China will be a major topic.
“We have raised this issue publicly and privately as it relates to cyberintrusions on, for instance, U.S. businesses and the need to protect both intellectual property and the U.S. economy from cyberthreats,” the official said. “And to advance that agenda, the two presidents will address the issue of cybersecurity.”
The Sunnylands estate near Rancho Mirage, Calif., where the summit will be held, was built by Walter and Leonore Annenberg in the mid-1960s and has been used for meetings of world leaders in the past.
Other issues to be discussed at the summit include North Korea’s nuclear program and China’s disruptive territorial claims in the South China and East China Seas.
The meeting in California comes against a backdrop of growing concerns about Chinese cyber-espionage.
The Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military said numerous cyberattacks have taken place in recent years and some have been linked to China’s government and military.
China’s government denounced the report, asserting it does not engage in cyber-espionage.
Defense officials have said cyber-espionage by the People’s Liberation Army, as the Chinese military is called, is one of its most secret “unacknowledged” intelligence programs, along with anti-satellite weapons.
Obama and Xi will address the agenda for a working group of officials from the two countries that will discuss more specific issues related to cyberattacks, the officials said in a telephone briefing for reporters.
“We expect this to become a standing issue in the U.S.-China relationship given the importance of cybersecurity to the global economy,” the official said.
“As the type of responsibilities that that entails, we believe that all nations need to abide by international norms and affirm clear rules of the road as it relates to cybersecurity. And that, frankly, means dealing with actions emanating from within your territory, so that if there are cyberthreats emerging from within another a country that pose a risk to U.S. businesses, we’re going to raise that. And so we’re going to do that with China, just as we would insist that every country meet their responsibilities.”
The message from Obama to the Chinese leader is that governments should work together to protect the infrastructure of the global economy against cyberattacks, and that nations need to “meet their responsibilities.”
“And that will be a focal point not just of these discussions but, importantly, of this working group going forward,” the official said.
Asked if the president will seek official recognition from Xi of recent reports linking the Chinese military, specifically a secret military unit based near Shanghai, to cyber-intrusions, one official said: “Frankly, the fact of the matter is governments are responsible for cyberattacks that take place from within their borders.”
The administration has been under growing pressure from U.S. businesses to do more to protect against cyberattacks.
However, the White House has declined to go on the offensive against foreign hacking, preferring instead to take more defensive measures.
Security experts say such defensive measures will not prevent cyberattacks as the attackers use increasingly sophisticated methods to gain access to computer networks remotely and steal large amounts of information.
In addition to protecting government networks, “We also have a significant concern that our businesses have confidence that there is not threats being posed, again, to their sensitive information,” the official said.
The format for the Sunnylands summit will allow for more time and opportunities for discussions between the two leaders, the officials said.
Obama hopes to develop a “personal relationship” with the Chinese leaders, who replaced Hu Jintao as Communist Party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission beginning in November.
“One of the issues that threatens to damage U.S.-China relations, as well as potentially damage the international economy and China’s reputation, is the use of cybertechnology, particularly as a means of obtaining intellectual property from American companies and institutions,” the official said.
Obama hopes to stress the “urgency and the scope of the problem” of cyberespionage and the risk it poses to respective U.S. and Chinese interests,” the official added.
“If there is untoward involvement of government officials in any nation, that’s something that needs to be dealt with directly by the government concerned,” the official said.
The officials said it will be important to deal directly with the Chinese on the cyberintrusions that officials describe as a threat that increases and decreases.
The working group will seek to set up rules and international norms for cybersecurity, they said.
“We believe that the most fruitful avenue towards progress is through that type of direct exchange,” one official said. “At the same time, we’re going to do what’s necessary to protect U.S. networks and U.S. businesses from cyberintrusions, both through our own cybersecurity measures and through how we engage with other countries in the international community.”
While directly attributing cyberattacks to specific government groups is difficult, governments are responsible for dealing with the attacks from its territory, they said.