Calling out China on hacking may be working, experts say.
After years of quiet and largely unsuccessful diplomacy, the U.S. has brought its persistent computer-hacking problems with China into the open, delivering a steady drumbeat of reports accusing Beijing's government and military of computer-based attacks against America. Officials say the new strategy may be having some impact.
In recent private meetings with U.S. officials, Chinese leaders have moved past their once-intractable denials of cyber espionage and are acknowledging there is a problem. And while there have been no actual admissions of guilt, officials say the Chinese seem more open to trying to work with the U.S. to address the problems.
"By going public the administration has made a lot of progress," said James Lewis, a cyber security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has met with Chinese leaders on cyber issues.
But it will likely be a long and bumpy road, as any number of regional disputes and tensions could suddenly stir dissent and stall progress.
On Wednesday, China's Internet security chief told state media that Beijing has amassed large amounts of data about U.S.-based hacking attacks against China but refrains from blaming the White House or the Pentagon because it would be irresponsible.
The state-run English-language China Daily reported that Huang Chengqing, director of the government's Internet emergency response agency, said Beijing and Washington should cooperate rather than confront each other in the fight against cyberattacks. Huang also called for mutual trust.
President Barack Obama is expected to bring up the issue when he meets with China's new president, Xi Jinping, in Southern California later this week. The officials from the two nations have agreed to meet and discuss the issue in a new working group that Secretary of State John Kerry announced in April. Obama's Cabinet members and staff have been laying the groundwork for those discussions.
Standing on the stage at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference last weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel became the latest U.S. official to openly accuse the Chinese government of cyber espionage - as members of Beijing's delegation sat in the audience in front of him. The U.S., he said, "has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military."
But speaking to reporters traveling with him to the meeting in this island nation in China's backyard, Hagel said it's important to use both public diplomacy and private engagements when dealing with other nations such as China on cyber problems.
"I've rarely seen that public engagement resolves a problem, but it's important," he said, adding that governments have the responsibility to keep their people informed about such issues.
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