And so, as predicted, the farce of Barack Obama pretending to crack down on Chinese hacking comes to an end.
The Chinese were nice enough to allow the President to talk tough for a little while to save face, but the bottom line is precisely what was expected: a “common understanding” with China that cyber-espionage is just awful, and it shouldn’t happen any more, which will allow China to sustain its preferred narrative about how it hates hackers more than anyone.
The report from CBS News is just plain embarrassing for the President. He sounds just like when he’s swaggering around and pretending he stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. Hopefully the Chinese don’t humiliate him as routinely as the Iranians do.
The president, in a Rose Garden news conference with Xi, was clear that he’ll be wary until the Chinese follow through on promised efforts to stop cyberespionage, saying, “The question now is: Are words followed by action?”
The president announced that he and Xi had come to a “common understanding,” saying, “We have agreed that neither the U.S. or the Chinese government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property including trade secrets or other confidential information for commercial advantage.”
As for the possibility of sanctions, against either individuals, businesses or state-run companies, he said: “We will apply those, and whatever other tools we have in our tool kit, to go after cybercriminals either retrospectively or prospectively.”
Mr. Obama said the agreement was progress – but he added that “I have to insist our work is not yet done.” The president called for cooperation between the two countries, which, he said “can happen as long as we continue to recognize that there’s a difference between friendly competition…and competition that tilts the playing field unfairly in one direction or another.”
This is exactly what China wanted. Obama didn’t even pretend to hold the Chinese accountable for massive raids on government systems, such as the Office of Personnel Management hack. He didn’t announce even token sanctions against Beijing-approved “private sector” fall guys.
President Xi doesn’t look like he’ll be lying awake at night worrying about retrospective or prospective American retaliation against his hacker squads:
Xi, for his part, agreed that the two countries would not “knowingly support” cybertheft and promised to abide by “norms of behavior” in cyberspace.
“Confrontation and friction are not the right choice for both sides,” Xi said, speaking through a translator.
That’s been China’s rhetorical position since Day One, and Obama didn’t make them budge an inch.
He didn’t even consider various gestures suggested for signaling profound disapproval with Chinese cyber-espionage. He basically pleaded with Xi to knock it off, served up a little “… or else” patter to his adoring press corps, and hoped nothing else like the OPM hack would happen until after he left office. The question of whether Xi’s “words are followed by action” will be answered by Obama’s successor.