The United States will not impose sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals before President Xi Jinping’s state visit next week, according to a White House official.
The potential for sanctions in response to alleged Chinese economic espionage is still there and Beijing’s approach towards cyberspace is a serious issue, a senior White House official told The Washington Post on Monday.
“But there is an agreement, and there are not going to be any sanctions” before the Chinese leader lands in Washington on September 24, the official said.
The Obama administration official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about the issue publicly.
The decision followed after Chinese and US officials closed four days of discussions on cybersecurity and reached “substantial agreement” on key issues on Saturday, the official said.
“They came up with enough of a framework that the visit will proceed and this issue should not disrupt the visit,” the official told the newspaper. “That was clearly [the Chinese] goal.”
However, the official response from the White House was less clear.
“I don’t anticipate that we’ll have additional information about any actions that will be taken, if any action is taken,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
“There’s not a whole lot more details I can provide about the conversations,” Earnest said.
The Financial Times reported earlier this month that the United States was preparing to impose sanctions on Chinese companies linked to the alleged cyber theft of American intellectual property.
Three US officials told the British newspaper on September 3 the sanctions possibly would be announced just days ahead of the Chinese president’s visit.
Sanctions could prompt Xi to cancel visit
Former US administration officials and experts told the Washington-based The Hill newspaper on Sunday that possible economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals could cause the cancellation of the scheduled visit, because Beijing is very upset about the potential of economic sanctions ahead of the trip.
“The Chinese right now are getting very concerned because they understand this will create embarrassing optics around the visit for them,” said Samm Sacks, China analyst at the Eurasia Group.
According to experts and former White House cyber security officials, the Obama administration will anger Beijing just days before the Chinese leader is scheduled to arrive in Washington.
On Friday, President Barack Obama told members of the US Armed Forces that Chinese cyber attacks are unacceptable.
“We’ve made very clear to the Chinese that there are certain practices that they’re engaging in that we know are emanating from China and are not acceptable,” he said.
US espionage accusations
Washington has for years accused the Chinese government and military of conducting computer-based attacks against the US, including efforts to steal information from federal agencies.
It claims that the Chinese military has made cyber warfare capabilities a priority over a decade ago and often blames people linked to it for hacking into US companies’ computers to steal secrets.
Beijing says Washington’s cyber attack accusations are hypocritical, since intelligence leaks have revealed that the US itself is most active perpetrator of cyber espionage against foreign countries, especially against China.
“We hope that the US stops its groundless attacks against China, start dialogue based on a foundation of mutual respect, and jointly build a cyberspace that is peaceful, secure, open and cooperative,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing on Friday.