China's spy deal with Germany brings hope for peace in cyberspace

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 12:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 12:45am

If two big powers want to develop a friendly and fruitful economic relationship, there has to be a foundation of trust and respect.

Nowhere has this principle been tested so sorely as in cyberspace.

High-tech espionage has undermined confidence in business as usual, let alone risk-taking investment. That is not good for global stability and economic growth.

Cyber security remains a sticking point of trust in Sino-US relations, with President Barack Obama having drawn a distinction between traditional espionage and the "act of aggression" of stealing commercial secrets.

China might say the same, in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations of US spying on Chinese companies.

It is therefore welcome news that a way forward may emerge in negotiations between China and Germany that began after Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Beijing last month.

According to Germany's envoy to Beijing, the two big trade and economic partners could wrap up a deal to abstain from commercial cyberespionage, covering security of both intellectual property and data, before the next Sino-German intergovernmental consultations in Beijing in the first half of next year.

Ambassador Michael Clauss does not rule out promotion of bilateral innovation co-operation in the two countries' development strategies for their manufacturing sectors.

The talks may become a landmark in China's efforts to reduce conflict with the West over cyberattacks on business and government.

Hopefully they will be a boost to progress made in talks during President Xi Jinping's visit to the US in September, when Obama said they agreed to promote "rules of the road" for appropriate conduct in cyberspace.

Lack of protection of IP rights and data security compound other perceived negatives for foreign investment in China, such as market access and slow internet speeds.

If the negotiations between China and the European economic powerhouse of Germany result in real progress that can only be an incentive for a Sino-US consensus on cybersecurity that is positive for co-operation and innovation.