In his speech in Seattle, China President Xi Jinping said: “China is a staunch defender of cybersecurity. It is also a victim of hacking. The Chinese government will not, in whatever form, engage in commercial thefts or encourage or support such attempts by anyone. Both commercial cyber theft and hacking against government networks are crimes that must be punished in accordance with law and relevant international treaties. The international community should, on the basis of mutual respect and mutual trust, work together to build a peaceful, secure, open, and cooperative cyberspace. China is ready to set up a high-level joint dialogue mechanism with United States on fighting cyber crimes”.
Most of the coverage of the speech has focused on Xi’s improbable but perhaps conciliatory claims about China’s innocence in offensive cyber. This focus overlooks what I think is Xi’s most significant statement in this paragraph: “hacking against government networks” is a crime that “must be punished in accordance with law and relevant international treaties.”
This passage could mean many things, and it is far from clear what “international treaties” Xi has in mind. But I speculate that Xi is signaling a demand for reduction in USG cyberoperations, and in support for NGO cyberoperations, that are designed to weaken or to circumvent China’s fierce control of its proprietary network, as an item of negotiation in any deal that would include a reduction of China’s private commercial theft inside the United States.