US, China seek arms deal for cyberspace during Xi's visit

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 (PNA/PTI) -- The US and China are negotiating what could become the first arms control deal for cyberspace, embracing a commitment by each country that it will not be the first to use cyber weapons to cripple the other's critical infrastructure during peacetime, a media report said ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's maiden state visit here.

While such an agreement could address attacks on power stations, banking systems, cellphone networks and hospitals, it would not, at least in its first version, protect against most of the attacks that China has been accused of conducting in the US, including the widespread poaching of intellectual property and the theft of millions of government employees' personal data, The New York Times reported.

The negotiations have been conducted with urgency in recent weeks, with a goal to announce an agreement when President Xi arrives here on Thursday.

Last week, a high-level Chinese Communist Party envoy, Meng Jianzhu, who is responsible for state security, visited Washington and met with Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice, director of FBI James Comey and others.

President Obama hinted at the ongoing negotiations last Wednesday, when he said that the rising number of cyberattacks would "probably be one of the biggest topics" of the summit meeting, and that his goal was to see "if we and the Chinese are able to coalesce around a process for negotiations" that would ultimately "bring a lot of other countries along."

But a senior US official involved in the discussions cautioned that an initial statement between Obama and Xi may not contain "a specific, detailed mention" of a prohibition on attacking critical infrastructure. Rather, it would be a more "generic embrace" of a code of conduct adopted recently by a working group at the United Nations.

One of the key principles of the United Nations document on principles for cyberspace is that no state should allow activity "that intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public."

The goal of the American negotiators is to have Chinese leaders embrace the principles of the UN code of conduct in a bilateral agreement with Washington, the report said.

But it seems unlikely that any deal coming out of the talks would directly address the most urgent problems with cyberattacks of Chinese origin, it said.

Most of those attacks have focused on espionage and theft of intellectual property. The agreement being negotiated would also not appear to cover the use of tools to steal intellectual property, the report said.

Still, any agreement to limit cyberattacks in peacetime would be a start.

"It would be the first time that cyber is treated as a military capability that needs to be governed as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are," said Vikram Singh, a former Pentagon and State Department official who is now vice president for international security at the Center for American Progress. (PNA/PTI)

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