Obama pressed Chinese leader on cybersecurity
By AAMER MADHANI | USA Today | Published: June 8, 2013
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — President Obama completed two days of wide-ranging talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, with the two sides inching closer in their concerns about North Korea's nuclear program.
But the two sides still seem to have a vast gulf in opinion on the seriousness of cybersecurity threats emanating from China, an issue is increasingly becoming the most challenging facing the global rivals.
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Obama and Xi talked in-depth about North Korea's nuclear program, an issue that has long worried U.S. leaders and is increasingly agitating Chinese officials.
"They agreed that North Korea has to denuclearize, that neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and that we would work together to deepen cooperation and dialogue to achieve denuclearization," Donilon said.
While no concrete steps were announced on North Korea policy during what was billed as a get-to-know-you visit in the southern California desert, the White House came away from the summit more confident that China is ready to work closely with the United States on the North Korea issue.
In recent months, China has grown increasingly frustrated with North Korea's belligerent rhetoric over its nuclear tests and missile launches. Going into the talks, the two sides appeared to be getting closer in their views on an issue that had been divisive in the past.
"The experience that they've had the last few months watching the behavior of Kim Jong Un has really a profound impact on Chinese thinking," said Jeffrey Bader, senior fellow at the Brookings institution in Washington and a former adviser on East Asia issue during Obama's first term.
But on cybersecurity issues, an issue that Obama and Xi spent much of Saturday talking about, the two sides still appear to be far apart.
China has been widely linked to network break-ins of numerous Western companies and agencies. And Obama issued an executive order this year to compel government and industry to share intelligence about network breaches, mainly to protect the nation's infrastructure.
The Pentagon also blamed China for cyberattacks in its annual report to U.S. lawmakers on Chinese military capabilities. The report, published in May, stated that some of the recent cyberattacks in the United States appeared "to be attributable directly to Chinese government and military."
In their talks, Donilon said the president made clear 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 added that Obama presented detailed examples of cybertheft, and told the Chinese officials that the U.S. government knows with certainty the intrusions are coming from within China,
"It is now at the center of the relationship; it is not an adjunct issue," Donilon said.
On Friday, Obama noted to reporters the "deep concerns" the U.S. government has about theft of intellectual property and hacking into private and government networks.
"What both President Xi and I recognize is that because of these incredible advances in technology, that the issue of cybersecurity and the need for rules and common approaches to cybersecurity are going to be increasingly important as part of bilateral relationships and multilateral relationships," said Obama, adding that world was entering "uncharted waters" on the issue.
At a news conference hosted by the Chinese following the summit, China State Councilor Yang Jiechi downplayed differences between the two countries on cybersecurity.
"China itself is also a victim of cyber attacks, and we are staunch supporter of cyber security," Yang said. "On cyber security, China and the United States are both are faced with similar challenges. Cyber security should not become the root cause of mutual suspicion and friction between our two countries. Rather, it should be a new bright spot in our cooperation."
No major announcements were expected to come out of the summit, but after the two leaders concluded their talks, the White House announced that Obama and Xi had agreed on a joint effort to combat climate change, specifically the production of "super greenhouse gases."
Top aides expressed satisfaction with how the meetings went, while noting that much work needs to be done to bridge the divide on some critical issues. Overall, Obama and Xi spent about eight hours together in talks, Donilon said.
"We've got a lot of work to do to take these broad understandings down to the level of specifics, and that will require further discussions," Obama told reporters on Friday night.
After concluding their meetings Saturday and before bidding farewell, Obama sat down for tea with Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan. The wife of China's ambassador to the U.S. also joined them. First lady Michelle Obama did not attend the summit. But she sent a letter to Peng expressing her regrets and expressing her hopes that she would get to meet her in China soon.
The leaders began the second day of their desert summit with a leisurely stroll, walking on the property of the Sunnylands estate with just a pair of interpreters who lagged steps behind them. The one-on-one time last about 50 minutes.
The estate, which was the winter home of the late billionaires Walter and Leonore Annenberg, is quite picturesque.
The two could be seen by reporters walking across a bucolic expanse of grass and then over a pedestrian bridge near a pond, with the San Jacinto Mountains in the distance.
Responding to a shouted question from a reporter about how the summit was going, Obama replied, "Terrific."
The two men were back to talks in the main house at Sunnylands less than an hour later. Outside the house, a new bench had been installed — a gift from Obama to mark the summit.
The bench, made of California redwood, was inscribed, "Presented to His Excellency Xi Jinping President of the People's Republic of China By Barack Obama President of the United States, Sunnylands Annenberg Estate, June 7-8, 2013." It also had a short statement written in Chinese.
Xi also met with California Gov. Jerry Brown for a short meeting on Saturday afternoon.
Xi headed back to China on Saturday afternoon, But Obama extended his stay at Sunnylands to golf with friends Mike Ramos, Bobby Titcomb and Greg Orme, according to the White House.
Contributing: Brett Kelman of The Desert Sun
President Obama walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands as they meet for talks on June 7, 2013, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Seeking a fresh start to a complex relationship, the two leaders are retreating to the sprawling desert estate for two days of talks on high-stakes issues, including cybersecurity and North Korea's nuclear threats.