After weeks of revelations about US surveillance, including specific hacking attacks on Chinese targets, it is hard to imagine that when the two nations sit down to talk the US will be able to keep the focus entirely on Chinese violations of US cybersecurity.
That’s how the Obama Administration pictures it, of course, with officials determined to convince China that what they do is “different.” And that seems to be the hand they’re playing.
Arguably it is “different,” as most allegations against China focus on industrial spying and intellectual property violation, whereas what we know about US spying suggests broad surveillance of individuals and collecting data on individual Chinese citizens.
Yet that’s only what we know about, and the US surveillance state has shown a remarkable ability to hide worse and worse secrets, so industrial spying and sabotage aren’t ruled out, and are even suspected, but not proven yet.
Moreover, the argument can be made that what the US is doing is far more onerous, as the Chinese hacking seems focused on acquiring specific technologies as opposed to total information awareness. US cell phone users are unlikely to have their text messages read by Chinese officials. The opposite can not be said.
The Snowden revelations have clearly changed the landscape of cybersecurity talks, and any claims to a moral high ground by the Obama Administration are certainly lost. Though the administration may be inclined to blame Snowden, however, the reality is that the heavy-handed US surveillance is the real culprit, and Snowden just made people aware of it.