US, China agree to fight cybertheft – but skeptical Obama also issues new sanctions threat

President Barack Obama on Friday laid out a fresh threat of sanctions for economic espionage emanating from China, even as he and President Xi Jinping pledged their countries would not conduct or support such hacking.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday laid out a fresh threat of sanctions for economic espionage emanating from China, even as he and President Xi Jinping pledged their countries would not conduct or support such hacking.

“The question now is: Are words followed by action?” Obama said, indicating his skepticism about Chinese assurances on the issue as he stood alongside Xi at a White House news conference.

Obama’s wariness underscored deep U.S. concerns about what officials say is China’s massive cyber campaign to steal trade secrets and intellectual property from American companies. While China has publicly denied being behind such activities, U.S. officials say their counterparts in Beijing have begun to take the matter more seriously, as well as the potential impact on ties with Washington.

“Confrontation and friction are not the right choice for both sides,” Xi said, speaking through an interpreter.

The spying tensions cast a shadow over Xi’s state visit to Washington, a grand affair complete with a formal welcome ceremony and a black-tie dinner. Obama faced criticism from some Republicans for honouring China with a state visit given the cyber concerns, as well as U.S. worries about Beijing’s human rights abuses and assertive posture in territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas.

While the latter issues were discussed during Obama and Xi’s lengthy talks, no discernable progress was made.

Xi said the Chinese have “the right to uphold our own sovereignty” in the South China Sea, where Beijing has alarmed its neighbours with a major campaign of artificial island-building. China has reclaimed about 3,000 acres of land in the past year-and-a-half by dredging sand from the ocean bed.

On human rights, long a divisive issue between the U.S. and China, Xi made no commitments, saying only that countries must have the right “to choose their own development independently.”

Obama and Xi did herald progress on climate change, one of the few areas of bilateral co-operation that has proceeded smoothly in recent months, largely because Beijing has struggled to contain heavy air, water and soil pollution that has destroyed farmland, sent cancer rates soaring and left its cities cloaked in dense smog.

In conjunction with the state visit, Xi announced a blueprint for a nationwide cap-and-trade system beginning in 2017 that would cover highly polluting sectors ranging from power generation to papermaking. China also said it will commit $3.1 billion to help developing countries reduce carbon emissions.

At the same time, Obama has warned that progress on climate change and other issues could be threatened by China’s continued cybertheft of intellectual property.

U.S. officials say that while they regularly hack Chinese networks for espionage purposes, they don’t steal corporate secrets and hand them to American companies. Chinese officials traditionally have viewed that distinction as meaningless, saying that national security and economic security are inextricably linked.

Ahead of Xi’s visit to Washington, the U.S. administration had been preparing economic sanctions in retaliation for Chinese cybertheft. However, officials decided to hold off on the penalties in hopes that an accord like the one announced Friday could be reached.

Still, Obama said the possibility of sanctions against individuals or entities remains on the table.

“We will apply those, and whatever other tools we have in our tool kit, to go after cybercriminals either retrospectively or prospectively,” he said.

The agreement to clamp down on the theft of trade secrets doesn’t address the theft of national security information, such as the tens of millions of U.S. federal personnel records that American lawmakers and some U.S. officials have said was engineered by Beijing. Obama has declined to publicly assign blame to China for that breach.

American officials have said the U.S. data was a legitimate intelligence objective — and the type of thing that Washington itself might target in other countries.

Just Posted

Scares and chills await at haunted house in Red Deer

Zed Haunted House helps raise money for Boys and Girls Club of Red Deer District

PHOTO: Renewable Energy Fair at Red Deer College

The Renewable Energy Fair and Workshops event was held at Red Deer… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Red Deer College Queens host third annual Pink in the Rink game

Queens raised $12,035 for the Central Alberta Cancer Centre.

PHOTOS: The Mustard Seed CEO speaks at Seeds of Hope Gala in Red Deer

The first-ever Seeds of Hope Gala was held at the Red Deer… Continue reading

Person airlifted to hospital after collision near Innisfail

One person was airlifted to hospital after a serious collision west of… Continue reading

WATCH: Make-A-Wish grants Star Wars loving teen’s wish

The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Anakin Suerink’s wish in Red Deer Saturday afternoon

Turkey to reveal details of probe into Khashoggi’s killing

ISTANBUL — In a sign of growing pressure on Saudi Arabia, Turkey… Continue reading

Utah truck driver is jailed without bond after crash kills 6

HEBER, Utah — A man suspected of driving under the influence remained… Continue reading

A ragged, growing army of migrants resumes march toward US

TAPACHULA, Mexico — A ragged army of Honduran migrants streamed through southern… Continue reading

Postal workers to begin strikes in 4 Canadian cities Monday if deal not reached

OTTAWA — The union representing 50,000 Canada Post employees says it will… Continue reading

Migrant caravan swells to 5,000, resumes advance toward US

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the… Continue reading

“I don’t feel real”: Mental stress mounting after Michael

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Amy Cross has a hard time explaining the… Continue reading

Toronto residents set to vote Monday on the next four years of civic leaders

Toronto’s municipal election campaign, marked by unprecedented provincial interference, ends Monday when… Continue reading

Former PQ minister Lise Payette remembered as role model for female politicians

MONTREAL — Members from across Quebec’s political spectrum gathered at a downtown… Continue reading

Most Read