By Justin Sink
President Obama said Friday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping "can work together" on key cybersecurity issues, predicting the nations could arrive at a "firm understanding" to help prevent intellectual property theft and hacking.
“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," Obama told reporters after a two-plus hour meeting in Palm Springs, Calif.
American negotiators are hoping to press Xi to address a series of high-tech attacks from within China on American government, university, and corporate computers. The U.S. will argue that the reported hackings and access of sensitive information threaten American national and economic security.
But Obama said he felt American and Chinese officials had shared cybersecurity goals.
“And as China continues in its development process and more of its economy is based on research and entrepreneurship… they’re going to have similar concerns," Obama said. "Which is why I think we can work together on this rather than at cross purposes.”
The pair planned to further delve into cybersecurity issues during a working dinner late Friday night.
Xi said that although he felt his country's role in cyber attacks had been exaggerated in the media, he still believed "good faith cooperation" could "remove misgivings and make information security and cybersecurity a positive area of cooperation between China and the U.S."
"I would hope that earnest measures can be taken to resolve this matter," Xi said.
President Obama also stressed that cybersecurity concerns differed from objections raised to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs revealed earlier this week. But the president reiterated that he welcomed "a conversation" on the NSA programs.
Earlier Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted the recent controversy instead offered a template for how to balance between security and privacy concerns.
“This is a pretty good illustration of type of conversation we want to have about respecting civil liberties and protecting the constitutional rights of the people that you govern," Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The meeting between the world leaders kicked off a two-day summit and was the first face-to-face meeting since Xi took office in March.
The president said the United States welcomed the rise of China as an economic power and that he hoped the nations would engage in healthy competition.
“But we also have a whole range of challenges on which we have to cooperate," he said.
Obama said the United States sought an allied effort in addressing North Korea and an international economy “where nations are playing by the same rules, where trade is free and fair and where the United States and China work together to address issues like cybersecurity."
The president also said he would stress to Xi that upholding universal rights was a key to success and prosperity and justice. The United States has long implored China to offer additional protections to political dissidents within the country.
“I will continue to emphasize the importance of human rights,” Obama said.
Xi said the nations needed to "think creatively and act energetically, so that working together, we can build a new model of major country relationship."
The Chinese president said he hoped to find common ground on economic and security issues and "increase exchanges and cooperation."
The meeting comes amid the revelation of a massive American surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, potentially jeopardizing the president's ability to assertively demand Chinese action on cybersecurity.
The leaders have a second bilateral meeting scheduled Saturday morning in California.
--This report was originally published on Friday at 9:47 p.m. and updated on Saturday at 9:27 a.m.