A delegation led by Chinese President Xi Jinping's special envoy Meng Jianzhu, and comprising leaders from public security, judicial, and cyberspace industries, among others, recently visited the United States. The two sides exchanged views on issues such as mounting a joint effort to crack down on cybercrime. The Chinese side attaches great importance to cybersecurity, which is becoming an increasingly important facet of China-U.S. ties.
Compared to topics the two sides have continuously remained at odds over, such as economic and trade agreements, Taiwan, Tibet and human rights, cybersecurity is a problem that has emerged overnight and could soon become a sticking point between the two countries. The issue has of late been sensationalized in the American press, and it is even reported that the U.S. Government will impose sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals accused of hacking.
The "China cyber threat" theory is a rehash of the "China threat" theory, relocated to cyberspace. Public opinion in America casually decided the cyber-attacks came from China. America claims these cyber-attacks are supported by the Chinese Government and the Chinese military. This is not a persuasive claim. It is widely held by cybersecurity experts around the world that hacking is a global issue. Chinese authorities have repeatedly reiterated that the Chinese Government resolutely opposes and cracks down on hacking attacks in any form. Neither the Chinese Government nor the military would support such actions. However, even such an unequivocal stance seems unable to dislodge the deep-rooted suspicions held in the United States.
The U.S. side has so far failed to provide any tangible evidence proving China is involved in cyber-attacks or business espionage. On the contrary, a large amount of data exposed by Edward Snowden clearly shows the U.S. Government and some relevant departments have long been engaged in large-scale and organized cyber espionage, monitoring activities against foreign political leaders, companies and individuals, including those from China. America's surveillance activities are all-pervasive. This undoubtedly has alerted China to its own cybersecurity and increased China's doubts concerning U.S. cyberspace strategy.
Both China and the United States are big players on the Internet. The United States is widely recognized as having the strongest comprehensive capabilities in cyberspace, while China is rapidly developing in terms of cyberspace and other relevant areas. Both countries are increasing their dependence on cyberspace. But the two countries share more than just a rivalry in this new area, but also wide common interests. Cooperation is required between the nations and will benefit both parties, while confrontation will prove equally hurtful. Like in conventional areas, such as economy, trade and military, this principle suits the unconventional area of cybersecurity. If the United States continues to impose cybersecurity sanctions on China, it will only trigger commensurate reactions from the Chinese side. This will seriously eat away at the strategic trust extant between the two countries, potentially even damaging their long-term interests.
Against a backdrop of increasingly fierce strategic competition, both countries have explored how to manage their differences. Their efforts have thus far proven fruitful. It is unnecessary for one to perish while the other survives in the realm of cyberspace. Both sides can bolster trust and expand cooperation. The signals given during Meng's visit to the United States were clear: In terms of cybersecurity, dialogue is better than confrontation. The Chinese side seeks dialogue and cooperation rather than opposition and confrontation.
To narrow differences and expand collaboration is the best option for China and the United States. To minimize disagreements, cybersecurity should be used as a starting point. So far, the two sides have reached consensus in many important areas. If the differences in cybersecurity are minimized while mutual trust and cooperation are gradually consolidated, an ostensibly bad situation could be turned on its head. This will mark another big step forward in terms of promoting China-U.S. relations.
The author is a senior international affairs researcher at the China Institute of International Studies. The article first published in Chinese in People's Daily Overseas Edition
Copyedited by Jordyn Dahl
Comments to email@example.com