Xi Jinping

Barack Obama, Xi Jinping soft-pedal on cyberspace security issue

Leaders skirt difficult questions raised by online attacks on US as tensions remain clear

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 10:13am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 8:44am

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping trod carefully at their news conference, avoiding a direct public confrontation on cybersecurity.

Obama described the contentious cyberissue as "uncharted waters". He said he and Xi had discussed cybermatters only broadly during their first round of talks, but pledged that a fuller discussion was still to come.

The US president said it was critical that America and China reach a "firm understanding" on cyberissues, but he stopped short of accusing China of orchestrating the hacking of computers belonging to the American government and to US businesses.

"Because of the incredible advances in technology, the issue of cybersecurity and need for rules and common approach for cybersecurity are going to be increasingly important," Obama said.

Xi, who took power in March, claimed no responsibility for China's alleged actions. He said China was also a victim of cyberspying, but did not assign any blame for the actions.

Cybersecurity has taken on increasing importance to the Obama administration in its recent talks with Beijing. Obama said advances in technology had created a need for clear protocols about what is and is not acceptable for governments to do.

"They're going to have similar concerns," Obama said of the Chinese.

Pushing back against the notion that the controversy over widespread government surveillance by the US undercut his credibility to take on China over cybersecurity, Obama insisted the two issues were different.

He said concerns over hacking and intellectual property theft should not be confused with the separate debate over how governments collect data to combat terrorist threats. "That's a conversation that I welcome."

China also has major concerns about cybersecurity, Xi said, calling new technology a "double-edged sword" that can drive progress but can also cause headaches for governments and regulators. Although he said China had been victimised by cyberattacks, he did not specify who may have perpetrated them.

Speaking more broadly, Xi said he and Obama believed the two countries can approach each other in a way "that is different from the inevitable confrontation and conflict".

Putting a positive spin on what has been a thorny issue between the US and the mainland, Xi said cybersecurity was an area in which the two nations should work together on pragmatically.

He said he was pleased that the US and the mainland had established a working group to discuss cybersecurity and called for the two nations to pay close attention to the issue as they worked to resolve problems related to it going forwards.

He invited Obama to come to China for a similar meeting, pledging to continue talking by phone and exchanging letters.