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Bessent: It's about time the Obama administration called China out for its cyberattacks

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi leaves after a

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi leaves after a news conference in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. China's foreign minister has rejected accusations that the country's military was behind massive hacking attacks on U.S. and other foreign targets and called for more international cooperation in policing the Internet. (Mar. 9, 2013) Credit: AP

The Obama administration called China out on cyberattacks Monday. It demanded the Chinese government stop the theft of data from the computer networks of American companies that appears to be the work of hackers operating inside China.

Before National Security Advisor Tom Donilon spoke Monday at the Asia Society in New York City, the administration had avoided mentioning China by name when talking about cyberintrusions. But Obama has apparently been emboldened, as he should be, because more victimized U.S. companies have spoken out, cyberattacks targeting the nation’s critical infrastructure have soared and the New York times has implicated the Chinese military in cybersnooping.

It’s about time the administration started naming names. What China is acused of doing is out in the open now, so President Barack Obama’s response should be too.

What he wants from the Chinese is public recognition of the problem, a commitment to crack down on hackers and its participation in setting global standards of conduct. That last is a good idea; If you’re going to accuse nations of crossing the line, it helps to be clear where the line lies.

Chinese officials insist they’re the victims of cyberattacks, not the culprits.

Hashing out international standards of conduct in cyberspace won’t be easy, not when the United States and other nations are hard at work developing arsenals of cyberweapons and maybe already using them. The United States and Israel are widely believed to be behind covert cyberattacks that have slowed Iran’s worrisome nuclear weapons program.

Donilon draws a distinction between ordinary hackers targeting intellectual property, as opposed to state sponsored cyberattacks to protect national security, that distinction may be lost on the Chinese. The line between government and business there isn’t as bright as it is here, particularly for officers in the People’s Liberation Army.

But Donilon said the United States wants international standards and China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi said China wants rules and cooperation on cyberattacks. Unless somebody’s lying, that should be enough common ground to get started.  


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