recommended reading

President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping Announce Cybersecurity Agreement

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House. // Andrew Harnik/AP

The U.S. and China found com­mon ground on cy­ber­se­cur­ity on Fri­day, an agree­ment an­nounced in re­marks de­livered jointly by Chinese Pres­id­ent Xi Jin­ping and Pres­id­ent Obama from the South Lawn of the White House.

“The United States wel­comes the rise of a China that is peace­ful, stable, pros­per­ous, and a re­spons­ible play­er in glob­al af­fairs, and I’m com­mit­ted to ex­pand­ing our co­oper­a­tion even as we ad­dress dis­agree­ments can­didly and con­struct­ively. That’s what Pres­id­ent Xi and I have done on this vis­it,” Obama said.

“I raised once again our very ser­i­ous con­cerns about grow­ing cy­ber­threats to Amer­ic­an com­pan­ies and Amer­ic­an cit­izens. I in­dic­ated that it has to stop,” Obama said. “The United States gov­ern­ment does not en­gage in cy­ber eco­nom­ic es­pi­on­age for com­mer­cial gain, and today I can an­nounce that our two coun­tries have reached a com­mon un­der­stand­ing on the way for­ward. We have agreed that neither the U.S. nor the Chinese gov­ern­ment will con­duct or know­ingly sup­port cy­ber-en­abled theft of in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­erty, in­clud­ing trade secrets or oth­er con­fid­en­tial busi­ness in­form­a­tion for com­mer­cial ad­vant­age.”

Obama ad­ded that the United States and China would work to­geth­er with oth­er coun­tries world­wide to es­tab­lish stand­ards of “ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct in cy­ber­space.” Obama char­ac­ter­ized the moves as “pro­gress,” even as he noted there is more work to be done.

Pres­id­ents Xi and Obama also jointly an­nounced the cre­ation of a cap-and-trade pro­gram in China, a move de­signed to build mo­mentum for a strong agree­ment to con­front glob­al warm­ing when world lead­ers meet in Par­is later this year for United Na­tions cli­mate talks. It’s slated to launch in 2017.

China has long been seen as a lag­gard in tack­ling the threat of glob­al warm­ing, but the U.S. and China—two of the world’s largest con­trib­ut­ors to the green­house gases driv­ing glob­al warm­ing—now ap­pear ready to use their out­sized in­flu­ence to con­front cli­mate change world­wide. The White House has been work­ing hard to ex­tract cli­mate com­mit­ments from China. Last Novem­ber, China and the U.S. agreed to a his­tor­ic pledge to curb green­house-gas emis­sions driv­ing dan­ger­ous glob­al warm­ing.

Obama men­tioned China’s eco­nom­ic status dur­ing his re­marks Fri­day. He said that even though parts of China still re­quire de­vel­op­ment, it can no longer be treated “as if it’s still a very poor and de­vel­op­ing coun­try.” Rather, he said, it’s now a “power­house” that has “re­spons­ib­il­it­ies.”

Asked by a Chinese re­port­er if China’s growth ad­versely af­fects Amer­ica, Xi noted that the United States has “in­com­par­able ad­vant­ages and strengths.” But he said the world must move bey­ond view­ing glob­al eco­nom­ics as a “zero-sum game.” China’s de­vel­op­ment be­ne­fits the U.S. and the en­tire world, Xi said, as U.S. growth be­ne­fits China and oth­er na­tions.  

The two pres­id­ents’ press con­fer­ence comes just hours after news that House Speak­er John Boehner will resign from his po­s­i­tion ef­fect­ive Oct. 30. Obama said that the news took him by sur­prise and that he had called Boehner just be­fore the press con­fer­ence. The pres­id­ent praised the speak­er as “a good man” and “a pat­ri­ot.” Obama de­clined to “pre-judge who the next speak­er will be” but ad­ded that he hopes there is “a re­cog­ni­tion on the part of the next speak­er … that we can have sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences on is­sues but that doesn’t mean you shut down the gov­ern­ment.”

Obama and Boehner aren’t ex­actly buds: The speak­er de­fied the White House earli­er this year when he ar­ranged a vis­it from Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu to ad­dress a joint meet­ing of Con­gress. He’s also routinely clashed with the ad­min­is­tra­tion on Obama­care and budget con­cerns, in­clud­ing with law­suits. But Boehner faced cri­ti­cism from mem­bers of his own caucus for en­ga­ging in talks with the pres­id­ent as they tried to ham­mer out a “Grand Bar­gain” on the na­tion’s debt back in 2011.  

“When you have di­vided gov­ern­ment, when you have a demo­cracy, com­prom­ise is ne­ces­sary,” Obama said Fri­day. “And I think Speak­er Boehner some­times had dif­fi­culty per­suad­ing mem­bers of his caucus [of] that.”

Speak­ing about the chal­lenges that Boehner faced, Obama said: “You don’t get what you want 100 per­cent of the time. Some­times you take half a loaf, some­times you take a quarter loaf. That’s cer­tainly something that I’ve learned here in this of­fice.”

Dur­ing Fri­day’s press con­fer­ence, Obama noted that cy­ber­se­cur­ity has been a mat­ter of “ser­i­ous dis­cus­sion” between him­self and Xi for more than two years, since their bi­lat­er­al meet­ing at Sunny­lands in Cali­for­nia. Though he be­lieves they’ve made “sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress” in fig­ur­ing out how U.S. and Chinese law en­force­ment will work to­geth­er to fight cy­ber­crime, “the ques­tion now is, are words fol­lowed by ac­tions?” The pres­id­ent said his ad­min­is­tra­tion will be “watch­ing care­fully” to de­term­ine the an­swer to that query.

Obama said Xi told him he can­not “guar­an­tee” the good be­ha­vi­or of all of his cit­izens, just as Obama can’t prom­ise good be­ha­vi­or from all Amer­ic­ans.

“What I can guar­an­tee, though, and what I’m hop­ing Pres­id­ent Xi will show me,” Obama said, “is that we are not spon­sor­ing these acts and that when it comes to our at­ten­tion that non­gov­ern­ment­al en­tit­ies or in­di­vidu­als are en­gaged in this stuff, that we take this ser­i­ously and we’re co­oper­at­ing to en­force the law.”

Obama’s planned meet­ings with Xi have proved con­tro­ver­sial since the state vis­it was an­nounced months ago, and they’ve been a hot top­ic in the 2016 GOP field. Sen. Marco Ru­bio and Carly Fior­ina have cri­ti­cized the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for ar­ran­ging a form­al state din­ner dur­ing Xi’s vis­it, planned for Fri­day night. Both think Xi’s trip should have been re­framed as a work­ing vis­it. Re­cent cam­paign dro­pout Scott Walk­er, on the oth­er hand, ad­voc­ated for the trip to be can­celed in its en­tirety. The can­did­ates have cited China’s role in cy­ber­at­tacks on the United States, its cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion, and its hu­man-rights re­cord as reas­ons to can­cel or shift gears.

Obama didn’t ig­nore hu­man-rights con­cerns dur­ing his re­marks Fri­day af­ter­noon. He shif­ted from an­noun­cing a part­ner­ship on glob­al de­vel­op­ment with China—fo­cus­ing on hu­man­it­ari­an as­sist­ance and glob­al health, among oth­er sub­jects—to that coun­try’s hu­man rights re­cord. Obama said he “af­firmed” Amer­ic­an sup­port for in­di­vidu­al rights, free press, and the free move­ment of civil-so­ci­ety groups in China in talks with Xi, and “we ex­pect that we’re go­ing to con­tin­ue to con­sult in these areas” in the fu­ture.

Xi ad­dressed an­oth­er ele­phant in the room: his coun­try’s ac­tions in the South China Sea. He as­ser­ted that the is­lands in the South China Sea are his na­tion’s “prop­erty” and he en­cour­aged “coun­tries dir­ectly in­volved” in dis­putes over ter­rit­ory to ad­dress their is­sues through mu­tu­al dia­logue.

This story has been up­dated. 

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov