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China flexes tech muscle with Seattle forum

China flexes tech muscle with Seattle forum
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China is organizing a technology forum in Seattle to demonstrate its influence over the U.S. industry, according to a Wednesday report from The New York Times.

The summit, scheduled for Sept. 23, coincides with President Jinping Xi’s official state visit. Its announcement follows a warning from the Chinese ambassador that rumored U.S. sanctions of Chinese companies would be counterproductive if put in place in advance of Xi’s visit.

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“The meeting is mostly to discuss the industry cooperation of the two countries, and big companies from China and the U.S., like Google, will all be there,” Zuo Xiaodong, the vice president of the China Information Security Research Institute, told The Times.

Apple's Tim Cook is also expected to attend, and representatives from Uber, Facebook and IBM have been invited, according to people familiar with the event.

The possible sanctions against Beijing would target large firms suspected of hacking American companies and are seen as a way to apply pressure after persistent intrusions into private U.S. networks.

The so-called “industry meeting” has piqued the Obama administration, officials say, by introducing a surprise element into the carefully managed and highly politicized state visit.

It also threatens to undermine the prevailing narrative that China’s digital policy is deliberately anticompetitive to American tech interests.

In February, China removed many of the top Western tech companies from its approved state purchase list. Others, including Apple, equipment maker Cisco, security firm McAfee and software company Citrix, have been barred from the approved list since 2012.

Last month, China resumed consideration of controversial cybersecurity regulations that would require Chinese banking firms to buy more domestic IT and force foreign vendors to disclose proprietary source code.

Beijing says it’s merely protecting its political and social stability, but critics say it is part of an effort to insulate China’s domestic industries at the expense of foreign companies.

For China, the forum may be a way not only to push back on the possible sanctions, but also indicate that companies that want access to China’s lucrative IT market will have to play by Beijing’s rules.

Prominently featured will be China’s Web czar, Lu Wei, who presides over the country’s tight Internet controls.

“This is about putting as much lipstick as possible on the pig in advance of Xi going into Washington where the administration is saying cyberattacks are the problem and the operating environment for U.S. firms is narrowing,” one industry official told the Times.