American officials focused on the hacking of corporate secrets during the first meeting of a U.S.- China cybersecurity group in Washington, downplaying their own spying operations exposed by a former government contractor.
The Obama administration officials raised accusations yesterday that the Chinese government is responsible for hacking into companies’ computers to steal intellectual property, according to an official at the meeting who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.
U.S. accusations against the Chinese government have been overshadowed in recent weeks by leaked classified material from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, including that the U.S. has hacked computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009.
The American official didn’t say whether Snowden and his allegations were discussed in the meeting.
Chinese officials have demanded an explanation for Snowden’s allegation that the U.S. has hacked computers in Hong Kong and China. Representatives from the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Participants in the bilateral working group had constructive discussions, exchanged views and made proposals to establish transparency and international rules for operating in cyberspace, the U.S. official said.
The working group lets civilian and military officials from both nations discuss international rules for cyberspace, raise concerns and set the tone for future bilateral talks, said a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi announced formation of the cyber working group in April as part of the larger strategic security dialogue the two countries hold every year.
The group is seen as an important mechanism in a broader effort to build cooperation and manage key differences between the U.S. and China, the State Department official said. The chairmen of the U.S. contingent are Christopher Painter, the State Department’s coordinator for cyber issues, and Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber issues.
President Barack Obama’s administration has decided to confront China with accusations that it is behind a campaign to hack into U.S. agencies and corporations to steal trade secrets and potentially disrupt computer networks operating banks, power grids and telecommunications networks.
The Pentagon in May accused the Chinese military for the first time of intruding into U.S. computers to steal sensitive data. Army General Keith Alexander, who heads the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, has called the hacking of U.S. trade secrets the greatest transfer of wealth in history.
China maintains that it’s a victim of hacking and opposes such activities.