Edward Snowden

Sino-US bid to clear the air amid fears on cyberspying

Meeting in run-up to dialogue shows two sides' depth of concern after Snowden's disclosures

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 2:52am

The United States and China aired concerns on computer hacking in the build-up to the start of their annual talks today.

European officials were also in talks on spying after revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden infuriated leaders and threatened to hold up what could be the world's largest free-trade agreement.

This first meeting, we're hopeful, will enable the two sides to share perspectives on international laws and norms in cyberspace

US and Chinese officials held their first session on cyber tensions in Washington on Monday.

"This first meeting, we're hopeful, will enable the two sides to share perspectives on international laws and norms in cyberspace," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after the talks.

Psaki voiced hope that the talks, which were attended by a Pentagon official, would "set the tone" for future exchanges on cybersecurity.

Another State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US had raised concerns about economic-related hacking.

The official said that both sides made "practical proposals" but declined to give further details.

The US has accused China of waging a vast hacking campaign against America's government, military and companies, with a private study recently concluding that cybertheft costs the world's biggest economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

China has hit back that it is also the victim of cyberattacks, charges that gained traction when Snowden said US spies had hacked into the prestigious Tsinghua University, one of six centres that routes all of mainland China's internet traffic.

Barack Obama has insisted there is a distinction between intelligence gathering, which he said was conducted by all countries, and the theft of trade secrets for commercial gain.

Meanwhile, European officials gathered at the US Department of Justice to discuss the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Just blocks away, EU and US officials launched ambitious negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which aims to reduce commercial barriers between the two economies and help both pull clear of the financial crisis.

The spying dispute had threatened to derail the long-planned trade talks even before they started. But angry Europeans agreed last week to go ahead with the TTIP plan - if they could also hold simultaneous discussions on the NSA's activities.

Brussels warned Washington last week that it might reconsider two key data-sharing deals - to share airline passenger data and SWIFT banking details - unless they get US assurances of "full compliance with the law" in its spying programmes.

There was no official confirmation that the intelligencerelated talks were under way.

But sources close to the matter said that two representatives from the European Commission, in the security and privacy fields, and representatives of the 28 EU member states, were meeting US counterparts at the Justice Department.

Official statements for the opening of the trade talks avoided reference to the spying furore, focusing instead on the potential to bring the huge US and European economies closer together.