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Obama calls out China for cyber espionage

President Obama’s new National Security Strategy calls out China for hacking the U.S. private sector and says the government will defend private networks against the Asian power’s intrusions.

“On cybersecurity, we will take necessary actions to protect our businesses and defend our networks against cyber-theft of trade secrets for commercial gain whether by private actors or the Chinese government,” said the report, released Friday.

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It’s the administration’s first National Security Strategy since 2010.

The 2015 report departs from its 2010 predecessor in several ways on cybersecurity, most notably on China.   

Unlike the previous document, the 2015 version states that “international law applies to cyberspace, which other countries don’t necessarily believe,” said Adam Segal, a Chinese cyber policy expert and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “China in particular has been pushing back.”

Cybersecurity receives top billing throughout the document. It was listed alongside other major security challenges, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak, climate change and nuclear weapons.

“We are shaping global standards for cybersecurity and building international capacity to disrupt and investigate cyber threats,” said the policy document.

Overall, the report is “an extension” of how the White House cyber policy has developed the last few years, Segal said.

But the “explicit statement about espionage” and China does potentially tilt U.S. cyber policy, he added. “That was always still being kind of discussed and debated."

Cyber relations between the U.S. and China have been strained since the U.S., in May 2014, indicted five members of the Chinese army for hacking the U.S. The decision caused China to pull out of a joint cyber working group, and the two countries have not returned to the table.

Most recently, White House officials criticized China for a proposed set of policies requiring American tech companies to submit all secret code to the Chinese government and install encryption that gives the government access to companies’ products.

At a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei shot back.

“All countries have the right to administer cyberspace in accordance with the law — and the cyber sovereignty of all countries should be respected and maintained,” he said.

The security plan shows a wide gulf remains on cyber between the two sides.

“It certainly suggests that we’re not really offering the Chinese much,” Segal said.