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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US, China Agree Not to Conduct, Support Cyber Theft

by Mary Alice Salinas September 25, 2015

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have agreed that neither country's government will conduct or 'knowingly' support cyber theft of intellectual property or commercial trade secrets, an issue that has been a source of tensions.

'I indicated it (cyber theft) has to stop.' Obama said at a joint news conference after private talks with Xi at the White House Friday. 'This is progress, but I have to insist that our work is not yet done.'

Xi told reporters the two sides reached a consensus on the issue and stressed that Beijing is against cyber theft of any kind.

'China strongly opposes..cyber hacking….but we need to stop confrontation and not politicize,' he said.

A White House release said the parties agreed to establish a 'high-level joint dialogue mechanism on fighting cybercrime and related issues.'

The U.S. has blamed China for a series of high-profile cyberattacks on U.S. government and business entities in recent years. China has strongly denied the allegations. A high profile incident occurred earlier this year, when hackers broke into the Office of Personnel Management and stole the personal data of more than 21 million federal employees.

U.S. officials suspect China-based hackers are responsible, though the Obama administration did not publicly blamed Beijing for the theft.

​​South China Sea

Another area of disagreement between the two sides has been China's controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea.

At Friday's joint news conference, President Xi defended Beijing's claim to the area and said its construction work on artificial islands there doesn't target any country and stressed that it 'doesn't intend to pursue militarization.'

China's island-building efforts are taking place in the Spratly Islands chain, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The U.S. has demanded China stop those activities, calling them out of step with international norms and a risk for sparking conflict in the region.

Earlier this week, Xi told The Wall Street Journal that the Spratly Islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

​​Climate Change

A major area of cooperation highlighted Friday by Xi and Obama was climate change, with the Chinese leader unveiling a new cap and trade program meant to regulate China's worst-in-the-world emissions.

'I want to commend China for announcing that it will begin cap-and-trade system to limit emissions,' Obama said.

During Obama's visit to Beijing last year, China and the United States both said they will reduce climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions - an agreement seen as a landmark moment for the world's two worst polluters.

A White House release Friday said Obama and Xi 'reaffirm their shared conviction that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity and that their two countries have a critical role to play in addressing it.'

Human Rights

On the thorny issue of human rights, Obama said he had 'frank' discussions with Xi.

'I expressed in candid terms our strong view that preventing journalists, lawyers, NGOs, and civil society groups from operating freely or closing churches and denying ethnic minorities equal treatment are all problematic, in our view, and actually prevent China and its people from realizing its full potential,' he said.

Xi said the two sides have different 'historical processes and realities'' but that China stands ready to hold dialogue on human rights issues with US.

Ahead of the talks, several rights groups had called on President Obama to not shy away from the issue during his meetings with Xi.

'It's a big and complicated relationship, and so there are a lot of topics vying for attention,' acknowledged Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. 'But we certainly think that the deterioration of the rights situation in China under Xi merits special attention.'

​​Elaborate welcome

Earlier Friday, Obama welcomed Xi to the White House with full honors, including a 21-gun salute,

President Xi, beaming, said relations between China and the United States are 'at a new starting point.'.

The American president said, 'Our two great nations–if we work together–have an unmatched ability to shape the course of the century ahead.'

Xi arrived in Washington Thursday from Seattle, where the Chinese leader sought to reassure U.S. companies he is working to create a more favorable investment climate in his country.

Later Thursday, President Obama hosted Xi at a small working dinner across from the White House. White House aides said their private talks were an opportunity to begin grappling with the main issues up for discussion during Xi's weeklong state visit.

William Gallo and Sam Verma contributed to this report

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