White House official: No sanctions before Chinese leader's state visit

White House official: No sanctions before Chinese leader's state visit
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Ending weeks of speculation, a senior White House official told The Washington Post that the U.S. will not impose economic sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals before President Xi Jinping's state visit next week.

The decision comes after Chinese and American officials closed four days of cybersecurity discussions with “substantial agreement” on key issues, the official said.

“They came up with enough of a framework that the visit will proceed and this issue should not disrupt the visit,” the official told The Post. “That was clearly [the Chinese] goal.”

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The official White House response has been less straight-forward.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll have additional information about any actions that will be taken, if any action is taken,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. “There's not a whole lot more details I can provide about the conversations.”

The meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials concluded on Saturday, following an all-night session on Friday.

A Post report citing unnamed senior officials revealed in late August that the administration was considering sanctioning Chinese interests accused of hacking U.S. companies, a divisive decision that some suggested could have spurred Xi to call off the visit to the United States.

Although delayed until after Xi’s Sept. 24 arrival, the official said, the use of sanctions is still very much on the table.

The sanctions would be part of a suite of options under consideration to stem the flood of cyber intrusions emanating from China, particularly Beijing-backed hacks that target private U.S. companies.

If issued, the penalties would only apply to Chinese companies and individuals — not Beijing, something some experts say may be a way for the U.S. to impose costs for the kinds of cyber espionage that it objects to without necessarily escalating tension between the two nations.

The threat of sanctions put even more pressure on the already politically-charged state visit, heating up the cybersecurity rhetoric on both sides.

Chinese officials on Friday called for the U.S. to stop its “groundless” hacking accusations.

Also on Friday, President Obama used some of his strongest language to date, calling cyberspace an area of competition “I guarantee you we'll win if we have to.”

"We've made very clear to the Chinese that there are certain practices that they're engaging in that we know are emanating from China and are not acceptable," he said at a Fort Meade town hall.

Last week’s meetings may have eased tensions slightly — China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that the negotiators reached "important consensus" — but the issue of Beijing’s digital espionage practices is not fully resolved.

“There are still big problems,” the White House official told The Post. “The question is, after the visit and after [the U.N. General Assembly scheduled for late September], will they resort to their old ways? Or will there be, in fact, real progress?”