In the run up to the "shirt-sleeves" summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama, which will take place at the Sunnylands estate in California on June 7-8, one of the questions has been how would Obama raise the cyber espionage issue. An approach that directly calls out the seriousness of the attacks but indirectly hints at the possible sanctions seems the most likely. This would be a "good cop, bad cop" approach. Obama would stress that Chinese attacks, especially on the private sector, needed to be dialed back, but that Washington also wanted to continue working with Beijing on a range of issues, including Iran, North Korea denuclearization, and climate change. Obama would also hint that there is a great deal of legislation being considered that might lead to sanctions on Chinese companies and travel restrictions on individuals, and that China should work with him to prevent that from happening.
"Good cop, bad cop" is still likely to make a showing at the meeting, but in a background briefing yesterday, senior U.S. government officials said Obama would also raise the norm of state responsibility: governments have a responsibility for actions emanating from their territory. This argument may reduce some of the tension between the two sides by shifting focus from who directs the attacks to where the attacks come from. It provides a pause, at least temporarily, from the assigning responsibility directly to the Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army that we saw in the Pentagon's report to Congress and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue.