After months of public shaming, public denial, public accusations and general public anxiety, Chinese and U.S. officials will finally sit down to discuss state-sponsored hacking between the two superpowers.
The two countries will hold regular, bilateral talks over cyber-security and theft of industrial intellectual property, reports The New York Times, but that doesn't mean the hacking attacks will soon stop.
The talks will begin in July, and will apparently focus on the theft of U.S. intellectual property. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet in Rancho Mirage, Calif., as a part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and will discuss matters ranging from state sponsored hacking, industrial cyber-espionage and how to deal with North Korea, the small hermit nation with nuclear capabilities.
Chinese hackers have landed in hot water as recently as February, when both President Obama and the Pentagon took to the press to complain of Chinese hacking intrusions with evidence. The press, too, from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post, also stated they were allegedly hacked by Chinese hackers for apparent political slights. The accusations were corroborated with detailed analysis from U.S. security research firms.
Those hackers were traced to a single building in Shanghai, China - a building owned by the People's Liberation Army, China's main military force. China has repeatedly denied it conducts such attacks, and has often countered that the U.S. itself is one of the largest state sponsored hackers in the world, frequently pointing to the U.S. and Israeli joint Stuxnet virus attack on Iran. That virus successfully gathered intelligence and damaged key uranium enrichment facilities, believed to be a part of Iran's plan to build a nuclear weapon.
"It is a serious issue that cannot simply be swatted away with talking points," a senior U.S. official involved with the negotiations between the two nations told The New York Times, saying that while industrial theft isn't the only concern the U.S. has with Chinese hackers, it is the most actionable item on the U.S. agenda.
But as The Times notes, China may not be so willing to give up its industrial-espionage operations. The ability to "borrow" technology from overseas industries has helped the Chinese economy grow at a yearly rate of 7 to 8 percent. Cutting China off of such a knowledge base would be difficult, and could significantly slow its economy.
But even if a treaty does arise it doesn't guarantee that both countries will cease their hacking operations. Cyber-espionage is a new, growing, field. That being the case, each player stands to gain a critical advantage over the other if they advance their cyber-espionage and warfare capabilities - regardless of any diplomatic treaty. To not push for these abilities could quickly sideline a government. It's a field with rules which can easily be ignored by both sides, and that's what the talk is seeking to change.
But if a treaty is signed, both countries do stand to breath a sigh of relief, even if the treaty only succeeds in making hacking attacks less apparent.