Russia-China cyber deal on horizon?

A rumored cyber pact between Russia and China is reportedly still in the works and expected sometime next year, even though it didn’t come to pass this week as originally thought.

In recent weeks, Russian media reports indicated the two countries were close to a cyber accord and eyeing this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing for an official announcement.

ADVERTISEMENT

But the summit came and went with no deal. 

The Russian-language newspaper Kommersant — which is owned by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is Russia’s richest man— reported the two countries are expanding the agreement even further, with a final deal expected in the first half of 2015.

Despite the sketchy sourcing, the reports “didn't seem strange to me,” said Ian Wallace, an international cybersecurity expert at the Brookings Institution. 

The pact would allow the two countries to conduct joint cybersecurity operations.

“It certainly seems plausible that those countries who feel their conception of cybersecurity ought to be defended should join together,” Wallace said. 

The U.S. and Russia have a cybersecurity working group, formed in 2013. But the agreement has been derided as unproductive and White House officials acknowledged the work has been damaged by Russia’s contentious military presence in Ukraine.

“Both the Russians and the Chinese have a joint interest in the conduction of information security, which is clearly very different from the one that we have in U.S. and Europe,” Wallace said. “They’re focused on regime stability.”

But Wallace wondered if China's long-term interests lie with the Russians.

“In the long term, the Chinese have more interest in the success of the U.S. financial sector because they increasingly own a large part of it.”

In the short term, the U.S. and China have made little progress on restarting a stalled cybersecurity working group, leaving APEC with no formal agreement.

The two countries have had chilly cyber relationships since the U.S. indicted five members of the Chinese military for hacking, causing China to pull out of its cyber working group with the United States.