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US, China skirt federal hack at meetings

US, China skirt federal hack at meetings
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The U.S. and China this week steered clear of discussing a massive federal data breach that American officials have privately pinned on the Asian power.

Hundreds of officials from both sides met for three days in Washington as part of the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

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Cybersecurity was unsurprisingly absent from a document detailing 127 bilateral agreements following the talks. And U.S. and China officials tread carefully in remarks following the meetings, with the shadow of what’s thought to be the biggest-ever federal hack looming over them.

“I think it’s fair to say there was not a direct kind of confrontational pushback,” Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerrySeinfeld's Jason Alexander compares Trump dance video to iconic Elaine dance This time, for Democrats, Catholics matter President's job approval is surest sign Trump will lose reelection MORE said in a Wednesday press conference. “There was an honest discussion about — without accusations, without any finger-pointing — about the problem of cyber theft and whether or not it was sanctioned by government or whether it was hackers and individuals that the government has the ability to prosecute.”

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi echoed Kerry’s sentiment.

“China affirmed its firm position, firm opposition and crackdown on all forms of cyber hacking, as well as China’s readiness for cooperation with the U.S. on cybersecurity on the basis of mutual respect and equality and mutual benefit,” Yang said, speaking after Kerry. “China urged the U.S. to respect facts, work together with China to improve the cyber relations between the two countries.”

The two sides appear to be in a period of cyber detente ahead of a September Washington visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Adam Segal, a Chinese cyber policy expert and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“They didn’t want cyber to derail that meeting and they certainly don’t want it to derail the Xi visit,” he said.

The refusal to openly confront the Chinese will likely frustrate those calling for President Obama to aggressively retaliate for the breaches at the Office of Personnel Management, which have exposed tens of millions of American’s data.

Pressure is mounting on the president to impose aggressive sanctions on China or even to hack back at Beijing.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.), who is running for president, had urged Obama to use the talks as a platform to threaten China with sanctions over the bruising cyberattack.

“Increasingly China is acting as an irresponsible and destabilizing force,” Rubio said in a letter sent Monday to Obama. “If it is to be dissuaded from continuing down this dangerous path, Beijing’s provocations must be met with more than mere rhetoric.”

But in this period of public niceties, Segal sees an opening to bring China to the table on cyber issues.

“There might be a slight window open until the Xi visit because the Chinese want that to go well,” he said.

Segal noted that Yang said China was open to an “international code of conduct for cyber information sharing.”

“I’ve never heard the Chinese talking about international information sharing,” he said. “That’s a new framing that I’ve never heard before and the U.S. should at least push them on that. What do they mean?”

But the clock is ticking. After the Xi visit in September, both sides will have less incentive to cooperate on any sort of cyber relationship.

“That window may only be open for a little bit,” Segal said.