On June 15, China and the United States held their second round of bilateral talks on cybercrime and other cyber-related topics in Beijing. Originally intended to be a ministerial meeting, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had to withdraw their participation to focus on the ongoing Orlando shooting investigation. As a result the meeting was being co-chaired by Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Suzanne Spaulding.
Next to agreeing to hold the next round of high-level talks in the second half of 2016 in Washington D.C., the bilateral dialogue yielded a number of other outcomes.
First, both sides agreed to hold another tabletop exercise (the first was held in April 2016) on cybercrime and network protection before the next meeting in Washington D.C. Second, participants agreed to the scope, objective and procedures necessary for the implementation of the so-called “U.S.-China Cybercrime and Related Issues Hotline Mechanism Work Plan” and are planning to test the hotline mechanism before September 2016.
Third, China and the United States agreed to intensify exchanges on cybercrime and other malicious activities in cyberspace, share cyber threat information, and to strengthen communication mechanisms. “A key element of the agreement is information-sharing and establishing mechanisms,” Suzanne Spaulding told reporters, according to The Hill. “We are very pleased to have temporary email addresses and very much appreciate working to set up permanent addresses,” she added.
Last, according to a Department of Homeland Security press release:
Both sides commit to prioritize cooperation on combatting cyber-enabled intellectual property (IP) theft for commercial gain and cooperate in law enforcement operations in four additional areas: online child pornography distribution, misuse of technology and communications for terrorist activities, commercial email compromise/phishing and online firearms trafficking.
The two most striking aspects here are the agreement to prioritize cooperation on terrorist activities and and phishing attacks. For one thing, China and the United States have divergent interpretations of what constitutes terrorism, particularly when it comes to Chinese policies in Xinjiang. In addition, most state-sponsored cyberattacks that were traced back to China with high confidence were initiated via phishing. Consequently, both items are politically highly sensitive topics and what cooperation on these issues will look like remains to be seen.
According to the Chinese side, there appears to be a political will to work on these issues. “I just want to add that judging from the statements on this issue made by both China and the U.S., the two sides have the political willingness to forge this issue which has long been a topic of discussion between the two countries into a highlight of cooperation and an engine driving forward bilateral relationship,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson,Lu Kang, said at a press conference on June 15.
In September 2015, China and the United States agreed to refrain from conducting or knowingly supporting commercial cyber-espionage. Prior to the last round of Sino-U.S. cybercrime talks held in December 2015, both countries, despite some quiet contact between the two governments, had not officially discussed cybersecurity since May 2014. “China at that time suspended participation in the U.S.-China Cyber Working Group after the U.S. Justice Department had indicted five members of the People’s Liberation Army for malicious activities in cyberspace,” I explained previously.