By Joseph R. DeTrani

President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Washington on Sept. 24-25 and meetings with President Obama resulted in agreements that portend closer US-China cooperation on a number of issues, including cyber economic espionage and North Korea.

Xi and Obama in Oval Office of the White House

The US and China agreed that neither country’s government would conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property with the intent of providing competitive advantage to companies or commercial sectors.  This is a very significant agreement.  Economic espionage plagues thousands of US companies doing business with China.  Many of these companies are reluctant to disclose these cyber intrusions, concerned that these disclosures would undermine confidence in their products and stock prices and, also, affect their relationship with China.  Thus, China’s agreement to closely monitor cyber economic espionage and adhere to mutually acceptable norms of state behavior is encouraging and long overdue.

The establishment of a high-level US-China dialogue mechanism on fighting cybercrime and related issues is equally encouraging.  A Chinese ministerial level official will have the lead, with participation from China’s Ministry of State Security, Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice.  Ideally, the PLA will also participate in this dialogue.  It was encouraging to see that it was Politburo member Meng Jianzhu, accompanied by PLA officers, who visited Washington prior to President Xi’s visit to discuss cyber-related issues and the potential for cooperation. The US attorney general and secretary of Homeland Security will co-chair the dialogue, indicative of the US commitment to see progress in this area. The exponential rise in cybercrime, perpetrated by criminal organizations and other non-state actors, reportedly in excess of one trillion dollars, is an issue also requiring immediate attention.  The likelihood that terrorist organizations will seek to exploit the Internet for destructive purposes argues for immediate bilateral cooperation to address both cybercrime and cyberterrorism.

Addressing cyber economic espionage and establishing a mechanism to address issues like cybercrime and cyberterrorism are encouraging bilateral developments with China. Ensuring that these agreements are implemented in a timely, transparent and comprehensive way will be the challenge, given skepticism that such cooperation will succeed.

Bilateral US-China progress and eventual success in addressing these issues should presage international cooperation in cyberspace in confronting cybercrime and cyberterrorism. It took decades to bring the international community to realize that international cooperation on nuclear issues required rules of the road and multilateral agreements.  It’s now an appropriate time to expect similar international cooperation in the cyber domain.

North Korea was also an issue President Obama discussed with President Xi. The US and China want North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and, eventually, return to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state.  To date, efforts to get North Korea back to meaningful negotiations have failed.  Since 2008, when Six-Party Talks were halted after North Korea disengaged, the North reportedly has built more nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.  China, North Korea’s only treaty ally, apparently has been unhappy with North Korea, ever since Kim Jong-Un took over in December 2011.  North Korea’s missile launch in December 2012, nuclear test in February 2013 and execution of  Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jung-Un’s powerful uncle who had a good relationship with China, apparently upset President Xi Jinping and contributed to a tense bilateral relationship for the past three years. Some believe that this tense relationship has denied China the ability to influence and moderate Kim Jong-Un’s behavior.

This tense relationship may be improving, which some believe would permit China to expert more influence and pressure on North Korea to return to meaningful denuclearization talks.  The celebration in Pyongyang on the 70thanniversary of the ruling Korean Workers Party was noteworthy with the attendance of Liu Yunshan, a member of China’s Politburo  Standing Committee,  reportedly the fifth most senior official in China.

Liu met with Kim the day prior to the October 10th celebration, delivering a letter from Xi Jinping hailing the traditional friendship between the two allies.  Kim Jung-Un reciprocated with a letter to Xi extolling their traditional bilateral friendship and commenting favorably on President Xi’s “China dream.”

China’s media published these letters and covered the 70th anniversary celebration and Liu’s meeting with Kim Jung-Un  and participation in the Oct. 10th celebration.  Reportedly, Liu discussed with Kim the resumption of Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Interestingly, Kim Jung-Un’s twenty minute speech at the celebration made no mention of the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Some say this was a gesture to China, knowing that China was not pleased with North Korea’s ambitious nuclear and missile programs. The parade did display, however, the KN-08, a solid fuel ICBM with a reported range of 12,000 kilometers.

Indeed, if North Korea is willing to return to meaningful negotiations to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and willing to implement the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement, this would, hopefully, be the beginning of a process that could lead to North-South reconciliation and eventually the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

President Xi’s state visit to the US and meetings with President Obama have given the respective countries and the international community hope that progress will be made on issues related to cyber economic espionage and tension with North Korea.

Joseph R. DeTrani is president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit professional organization.  He previously was the Special Envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea and the Director of the National Counterproliferation Center.  The views are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any government department or agency.

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