Cyber Security Top Priority For Obama Xi Meeting
June 3, 2013

Cyber Security Top Priority As Obama Meets With New Chinese President

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

When President Barack Obama meets with newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping this Friday in South California in what is being described as a relatively informal retreat, the very serious issue of cyber hacking will be on the agenda. The meeting of the world´s two top economic powers is being described as a “shirt-sleeve” affair, and is aimed at allowing the two to meet outside the spotlight of Washington.

Friday´s meeting between American and Chinese leaders will be followed by a July meeting between officials of both nations that will also focus on cyber espionage. This week´s meeting, which is being held on the 200-acre Sunnylands estate once owned by late publishing magnet Walter Annenberg, is the first time that Obama and Xi have met since the latter took office in March.

The meeting came earlier than the pair had planned and is being seen as an effort to address concerns in both countries over growing fractures in the relationship. With the issue of cyber hacking at the forefront, it could potentially sour the feel-good vibe of this casual summit.

“The president wants to be able to have, behind closed doors, a tough and straight conversation with Xi Jinping about our specific concerns,” a senior US official said of the cyber-security issue told Reuters. “Problems and activities emanating from China have a deleterious effect on our companies, on our interests and on our relationship.”

This summit now comes just a week after it was reported that Chinese hackers may have compromised some of the US´s most sensitive advanced weapons systems. Chinese hackers have been in the spotlight in recent months, with state-linked cyber criminals targeting companies in the United States and other English-speaking countries. These attacks were all believed to be launched by a division of China´s People´s Liberation Army (PLA) called Unit 61398, which is located in a 12-story building near Shanghai.

Activity from this group had been slow following the release of a report from security firm Mandiant, but a new report suggests that Unit 61398 is back at work.

For its part, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied that it engages in such spying against the United States. The Associated Press noted that a senior Obama administration official said that while the Chinese have become less dismissive of US concerns about cyberattacks, it is not believed that the matter can be settled in a single meeting.

In fact, security analysts have suggested that there is little evidence that the hacking from China has stopped in any way.

“If the Chinese government wanted to signal to the United States that it wanted to curb its activity, the US government would see it and we would see it,” Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at the US-based firm Mandiant told Reuters. “But it´s the same as it´s always been.”

While it is not believed that the summit will result in any concrete policy decisions, the summit could lay the groundwork for progress in the realm of cybersecurity as the two leaders attempt to establish a working relationship.

Xi and Obama met last year when Xi was still vice president and visited the White House. The Chinese leader reportedly had a warm relationship with Vice President Joe Biden. Moreover, Xi has deeper ties to the US than his predecessors. Xi has frequently visited the United States, has visited relatives who live in Muscatine, Iowa, and even has daughter who attended Harvard.

While the summit is taking place at an estate that is equipped with a golf course and hiking paths, there likely won´t be time for such leisurely activities.

“This is not a sleepover,” an official responsible for organizing the event told Reuters. “We're not inviting President Xi to have a casual weekend in Palm Springs. This is for real.”