Cybersecurity at Top of Agenda for Xi, Obama Meetings

Ahead of the meeting between Presidents Obama and Xi in California next week, both sides are working to set the agenda not only for the meetings but for the evolving relationship between the two powers. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon met with Xi and other leaders in Beijing to prepare for the meetings. From the New York Times:

In a public statement before the closed-door session with General Fan, Mr. Donilon repeated the Obama administration’s desire for stronger strategic communications between the two militaries and for joint, rather than competitive, efforts to deal with regional problems in Asia.

Mr. Xi’s blunt focus on a new relationship with the United States puts that notion at the center of the summit meeting, Chinese and American analysts said, although few were sure what specifically Mr. Xi, who is regarded as a man of big ambitions and a friend of the military, had in mind.

Even before assuming the presidency in March, Mr. Xi mentioned the desire for a new relationship, alluding to it on his visit to Washington as vice president in February 2012.

Earlier this year, officials from the Foreign Ministry met with professors of international relations in Beijing to discuss how best to define the “great power relationship,” but no one knew how to flesh it out, several professors said. [Source]

Reuters has more on Donilon’s comments in Beijing:

“An essential part of building a new model for relations between great powers is ensuring we have a healthy, stable and reliable military to military relationship,” Donilon told Fan at the Chinese Defence Ministry, in brief comments before reporters.

He added the two countries should work to face “non-traditional security challenges” including peacekeeping, disaster relief and countering piracy.

Fan, the vice chair of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, called for a “new type of major power relations”. [Source]

While cybersecurity was not explicitly mentioned, it will be high on Obama’s agenda, following revelations of widespread Chinese hacking attacks, some of which may be linked to the People’s Liberation Army. A recent Washington Post article revealed a confidential report prepared for the Pentagon which states that Chinese hackers had gained access to the designs for the United States’ most sensitive advanced weapons systems:

Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to a previously undisclosed section of a confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board.

Experts warn that the electronic intrusions gave China access to advanced technology that could accelerate the development of its weapons systems and weaken the U.S. military advantage in a future conflict.

The Defense Science Board, a senior advisory group made up of government and civilian experts, did not accuse the Chinese of stealing the designs. But senior military and industry officials with knowledge of the breaches said the vast majority were part of a widening Chinese campaign of espionage against U.S. defense contractors and government agencies.

The significance and extent of the targets help explain why the Obama administration has escalated its warnings to the Chinese government to stop what Washington sees as rampant cyber­theft. [Source]

But the Pentagon was quick to downplay the report publicly, according to Reuters:

Pentagon spokesman George Little and other defense officials downplayed as outdated and overstated a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post, which cited a Defense Science Board (DSB) report as saying that Chinese hackers have gained access to designs of more than two dozen major U.S. weapons systems.

The newspaper said the compromised U.S. designs included those for combat aircraft and ships, as well as missile defenses vital for Europe, Asia and the Gulf. But Little said it was wrong to suggest that U.S. capabilities had been eroded.

“We maintain full confidence in our weapons platforms,” Little said in a statement. “Suggestions that cyber intrusions have somehow led to the erosion of our capabilities or technological edge are incorrect.” [Source]

Nevertheless, according to the same Reuters report, the White House has confirmed that cybersecurity is a “key concern” that will be discussed at the California summit.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr commented on allegations that Chinese hackers stole plans for the country’s new intelligence headquarters, while emphasizing that it would not effect relations between the two countries. From BBC:

On Monday the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported blueprints setting out the building’s cable layouts and security systems had been illegally accessed by a server in China.

Mr Carr did not comment directly on the claims.

But he said the government was “very alive” to cyber security threats.

“I won’t comment on whether the Chinese have done what is being alleged or not,” he said. [Source]

Watch the full ABC broadcast, “Hacked!”.

On Wednesday, the Chinese government announced that the military would hold its first “‘digital’ war games” to prepare the country for “informationalized” war.


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