Wall Street Journal: Obama to Press Chinese President Xi Jinping on Cyberattacks, Human Rights, Adviser Says

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By Damian Paletta Sept. 21, 2015 4:17 p.m. ET

In meeting with Xi Jinping, Barack Obama to make it clear that ‘economic espionage’ practices must change, National Security Adviser says

Washington—Differences between the U.S. and China over cyberattacks and human rights won’t be “papered over” during a meeting this week between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a top White House adviser said, though it’s unclear whether the administration will be able to strike a new agreement on either issue.

Mr. Xi is visiting Washington beginning Thursday, and U.S. officials in recent days have suggested they would use the state visit to strike a more confrontational tone with China on a range of subjects.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Monday the U.S. and China have boosted cooperation in many areas, including the response to last year’s Ebola crisis in western Africa. But she said Mr. Obama would make it clear that China must change its practices in other, more sensitive areas, particularly “state-sponsored, cyber-enabled economic espionage.”

“This isn’t a mild irritation,” she said in a speech at George Washington University. “It is an economic and national security concern to the United States. It puts enormous strain on our bilateral relationship, and it is a critical factor in determining the future trajectory of U.S.-China ties.”

National Security Adviser Susan Rice spoke about the U.S-
China relationship and upcoming Chinese state visit to
Washington at George Washington University in Washington,
D.C., on Monday.
(Photo: Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
Mr. Obama and other U.S. officials have alleged that Chinese hackers have stolen sensitive corporate data, and the White House is considering whether to impose economic sanctions against Chinese firms that allegedly benefited from the theft. Chinese government officials have denied any involvement, but growing anger from U.S. business groups has fueled calls for the White House to act.

Ms. Rice stopped short of explaining how the U.S. might pressure Chinese hackers to stop stealing corporate information. She did say the U.S. would “continue to urge China to join us in promoting responsible norms of state behavior in cyberspace.”

The U.S. government has struggled to respond to the recent surge in cyberattacks against both companies and federal agencies. In recent months, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management disclosed that hackers had stolen more than 21 million security clearance investigation records from government files, and some top officials and U.S. lawmakers accused Chinese hackers of perpetrating the attack. The Chinese government denied involvement, but the episode has intensified pressure on Mr. Obama to act.

Chinese President Xi Jinping lands in the U.S. on Tuesday and will embark on a whirlwind of meetings. Here's a quick guide to Xi's itinerary.

Mr. Obama said last week that seeking to steal government records from another country is a common part of espionage, but the theft of corporate records is more serious.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican running for president, said at a debate last week that the U.S. “should use offensive tactics as it relates to cybersecurity, send a deterrent signal to China.” The White House so far has stopped short of publicly embracing this deterrent approach.

The U.S. and China have developed an increasingly complex relationship in cyberwar, as in other areas. As two of the world’s largest economic and military powers, their interests are often intertwined, but they have been at odds of late on everything from China’s currency control to its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

On the other hand, the two countries reached an agreement last year on climate change that requires both sides to cut greenhouse emissions significantly over the next two decades.

Ms. Rice said that when it comes to human rights, U.S. officials would continue to argue that Chinese leaders should stop detaining activists, blocking access to certain websites, and imposing limits on religious practices. But these complaints aren’t new, and so far haven’t resulted in major changes.

Ms. Rice also responded to criticism, notably from Republican GOP presidential candidates, that Mr. Obama should not be hosting Mr. Xi in the first place, given the array of disputes between the two countries.

“President Obama needs to cancel the state visit,“ Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said last month. ”There’s serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations.”

Mr. Rice rejected that approach Monday.

“That is a dangerous and shortsighted view,” she said. “If we sought to punish China by canceling meetings or refusing to engage them, we would only be punishing ourselves. It is determined, constant engagement that allowed us to reach a climate agreement while overcoming long-standing trade disputes.”

Write to Damian Paletta at damian.paletta@wsj.com

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