The irony of this week’s summit meeting between President Obama and China’s President, Xi Jinping, is that these two heads of state may be powerless to stop the silent cyber conflict that they are engaged in. With both economies, so intertwined and China grappling with a slowing economy and turbulent stock market there is little that either can do that hasn’t been tried before.
Have We Seen This Movie Before?
The first time Obama and XI met was an informal meet and greet in June of 2013 at the Sunnylands estate in California. It was a little over four months after Mandiant published the APT1 report. This was the first time anyone had publicly pointed the finger at China’s cyber espionage campaigns targeting the private sector. Names had been named and President Obama's National Security Advisor, Thomas Donilon, declared that cyber espionage had moved to the "forefront" of the U.S. agenda in its relationship with China. He called for the Chinese Government to stop the hacking and to join an international process for limiting economic espionage[i].
The White House had said that cyber-security would be part of the agenda at that Sunnylands meeting. Enter Edward Snowden. Two days before the summit, he revealed his top-secret documents, and muddied the conversation. It’s unclear what Obama and Xi discussed behind closed doors in California. But Obama’s official remarks after the meeting were, at best, vague:
“… the United States seeks an international economy and international economic order where nations are playing by the same rules, where trade is free and fair, and where the United States and China work together to address issues like cyber-security and the protection of intellectual property.”
Meanwhile the attacks continued.