US-China Summit a Cyber-Issues Meet?

With President Obama’s concerns revolving around the Chinese cyber-hacking of U.S. secrets, the US-China Summit to take place near Palm Springs this Friday is looking to be intense. Newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping seeks to expand China’s global economic reach, but it seems like there will be no room for this without resolution of the long-standing cyber dispute.

Friendly Negotiations

The summit was planned as the first friendly meeting in history between leaders of the US and China in an attempt to build a rapport that the two countries have not seen since 1972 when then President Nixon closed the schism between the two nations. Getting to know each other during this, President Xi’s first visit to the US,may prove difficult in light of the tension created by the cyber snooping issues and the history of failure among past US presidents to make significant contact with former leader Hu Jintao.

The Economic Implications of Cyber Attacks

Both China and the US are nevertheless hopeful that some progress can be made on the two countries’ more pressing concerns. Though proving to be a less than relaxing meet in view of President Obama’s decision to take a hard line with President Xi regarding the hacking, the economic implications for both countries may still allow for a beneficial compromise. Other than stressed relations, Chinese cyber activities have had a very damaging effect on US companies and economic interests. With an eye on a bigger slice of the global pie, China may come to understand the need stable cyber security in the US to pave the way for improved economic opportunities.

According to one senior US official, “The president wants to be able to have, behind closed doors, a tough and straight conversation,” about the cyber issues with President Xi. China’s prepared statement that it has suffered hacking at the hands of other countries will not be accepted as an excuse for continued cyber intrusions. One senior Obama administration official expressed the hope that some ground rules for “operating in cyberspace” could be agreed upon.

Worries over the US Pivot to Asia

China’s worry has at its center the plan to return military forces to Asia after the war in Afghanistan. The fear is that this move raises security issues, specifically that the US will attempt to surround China with a military force as it reorients foreign policy and shifts American military assetsto the Asia-Pacific region. The US has made a commitment to allies Japan and South Korea to keep China’s power in check. This interferes with Xi’s desire to create a power relationship with the US as it promotes itself globally. Xi also wants to be seen as Obama’s equal by China’s leadership, its public, and the world.

China has risen as a global economic power and has also become more active militarily at home. The US pivot to Asia, with its positioning of advanced weapons systems such as the radar-evading F-22 Raptor jet fighter, the F-35 and Virginia-class fast-attack submarine, is making China nervous. On the US side, reports of cyber attacks from China continue to come in. China denied allegations of cyber-attacks this week aimed at Pentagon weapons programs. 40 programs were attacked, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The disagreement over China’s policy regarding North Korea may also play a part in addition to issues relating to world trade and the East and South China Sea territorial disputes.

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