China and the U.S. have agreed to hold regular, high-level talks on cyberespionage, according to a report.
The talks will focus on the theft of U.S. intellectual property and will kick off in July as part of the yearly "Strategic and Economic Dialogue" between China and the U.S., which covers a varied slate of issues, The New York Times reported late Saturday. A new working group will also meet more often, the Times reported -- referring, perhaps, to the working group mentioned by Secretary of State John Kerry in April.
The Times quotes "a senior American official involved in the negotiations to hold regular meetings": Cyberespionage, the official said, "is a serious issue that cannot simply be swatted away with talking points," and in regard to the focus on intellectual-property theft, the official said, "our concerns are not limited to that, but that's what needs urgent attention."
The U.S. and China have been vociferously accusing each other of cyberespionage recently, a public back-and-forth that gained momentum after a rapid series of revelations early this year of cyberspying against the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel raised the topic during a speech Saturday at a regional security conference in Singapore, as well as during a meeting last night with the deputy chief of staff of China's People's Liberation Army. And President Obama brought up the issue in March, during a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two presidents are scheduled to meet in California in a week's time, to get to know each other and to discuss a variety of topics.
In its report today, the Times says it's not clear what, exactly, will come of the talks on cyberespionage. Cyberspying, and cyberwarfare, are relatively new phenomena, for one thing, and can't necessarily be handled with the same diplomatic tools, such as arms control treaties, that have been used in the past. Also, the two countries are not yet prepared to discuss outright military espionage -- which is why the talks will initially focus on the stealing of corporate secrets.
On the other hand, the Times says, both countries would benefit from some sort of agreement that would protect critical infrastructure, such as utilities.