US, China tackle cyber crime as talks start

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U.S. and Chinese officials on Tuesday kicked off talks aimed at improving cooperation on commercial cyber espionage investigations.

In the first official cybersecurity dialogue between the two countries since early 2014, Beijing representatives joined the heads of the Justice and Homeland Security departments, and FBI and intelligence community officials, to discuss the logistics of responding to reports of commercial espionage.

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The digital theft of corporate secrets has emerged as one of the major irritants between the global powers. American businesses say Chinese cyber theft is costing them hundreds of billions of dollars each year, while eroding their competitive edge in the global market.

Tuesday was the beginning of a major two-day cybersecurity summit between the two countries intended to mitigate some of these tensions that have strained U.S.-China relations in recent years.

The meetings arose out of a September agreement — revealed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Washington, D.C. — in which both sides pledged not to conduct, or knowingly support, commercial espionage.

But many noted the agreement was quite vague. The two sides agreed to meet in the coming months to flesh out the details.

Those talks got underway with Tuesday’s meeting, co-chaired by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

According to a short Department of Justice release, the two used the meeting to “candidly discuss ways to enhance cooperation” on cyber crime with their Chinese counterparts.

Guo Shengkun, China’s state councilor and minister of public security, was Beijing’s top representative at the meeting.

While outside policy experts aren’t expecting any major outcomes after the talks conclude Wednesday, the mere fact that the meeting is taking place is seen as a critical first step in repairing the fractured relations between the two adversaries.  

U.S. officials have also insisted the meetings will help to establish guidelines that can judge China’s compliance with the September deal.

“We have been clear with the Chinese government that we are watching to ensure their words are matched by actions,” a senior administration official told The Washington Post on Monday.