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Steptoe Cyberblog

China-US “Proxy” Cyberwar Negotiations?

Posted in China, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar, International

Over the past three years think tanks in China and in the US have been conducting what could be called “proxy” negotiations on cyberwar and cyberespionage. The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and the US Center for Strategic and International Studies are establishment institutions, with just enough independence from their governments to make the talks deniable. But “observers” from both governments have been sent, so it’s obvious there is interest on both sides.

What’s the result? From the outside it’s difficult to say, but the two sides recently agreed to release a public description of the issues raised in the talks and of the respective US and Chinese positions on those issues. The document is here (scroll for the English version). Surprisingly it’s quite candid, by the low standards usually set for such releases, noting for example that both the US and China are concerned about their IT supply chain because “both believe that the other will seek to exploit the supply chain to introduce vulnerabilities in to networks and infrastructures.” True, that.

Overall, there is a sense that there may be some forward movement toward confidence-building measures to head off full-fledged cyberwar, reflecting what a nightmare that could be for both countries. Cyberespionage? Not so much, which may suggest that the advantages in cyberespionage are seen as asymmetric.