Cyber security takes center stage at US, China summit
RANCHO MIRAGE, California
US President Barack Obama (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree to apply more pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and reach a ‘firm understanding’ on cyber issues. AP photoU.S. President Barack Obama used an unusually lengthy and informal desert summit to present Chinese President Xi Jinping with detailed evidence of intellectual property theft emanating from his country, as a top U.S. official declared June 8 that cyber security is now at the “center of the relationship” between the world’s largest economies.
While there were few clear policy breakthroughs on cyber security, U.S. officials said Obama and Xi were in broad agreement over the need for North Korea to be denuclearized. And both countries expressed optimism that the closer personal ties forged between the two leaders during the California summit could stem the mistrust between the world powers.
Still, Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon said resolving cyber security issues would be “key to the future” of the relationship, according to the Associated Press. Obama told Xi that “if it’s not addressed, if it continues to be this direct theft of United States property, that this was going to be very difficult problem in the economic relationship and was going to be an inhibitor to the relationship really reaching its full potential,” Donilon told reporters following the summit.
In their own recap of the meetings, Chinese officials said Xi opposed all forms of cyber spying, but claimed no responsibility for attacks against the U.S. “Cybersecurity should not become the root cause of mutual suspicion and frictions between our two countries. Rather, it should be a new bright spot in our cooperation,” said Yang Jiechi, Xi’s senior foreign policy adviser. Yang said the two leaders “blazed a new trail” away from the two nations’ past differences and “talked about cooperation and did not shy away from differences.”
Obama and Xi met for about eight hours over the course of two days at the sweeping Sunnylands estate, marking a significant and unusual investment of time for both presidents. The U.S. president told reporters that the talks were “terrific” as he and Xi walked side by side, both having ditched jackets and ties in a nod to the summit’s informal atmosphere. The leaders closed the summit in low-key style, with no formal statements to the press.
Obama and Xi did take a significant step toward tackling climate change, announcing that they had agreed for the first time to partner on reducing hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and industrial applications.
The discussions on North Korea also proved promising, Donilon said, with the leaders agreeing that North Korea has to be denuclearized and that neither country will accept the North as a nuclear-armed state. North Korea is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices, with some analysts putting its arsenal at four to eight plutonium bombs.
Impatience against North
While China is Pyongyang’s strongest ally and economic benefactor, Xi has signaled a growing impatience with North Korea’s unpredictable and provocative nuclear threats. “China has taken a number of steps in recent months to send a clear message to North Korea, including though enhanced enforcement of sanctions and through public statements by the senior leadership in China,” Donilon said.
U.S. officials are hoping that Xi, who took office in March, proves to be a new brand of Chinese leader. He has deeper ties to the U.S. than his predecessors, given that he lived in Iowa briefly as a visiting official and sent his daughter to college in the U.S.
The two leaders will likely meet again in September, on the sidelines of an international economic summit in Russia. Xi also invited Obama to travel to China soon for a similarly informal round of one-on-one talks.