The U.S. and China agreed Friday not to hack into companies to steal their sensitive trade secrets. But even President Obama, who announced the deal at the White House with Chinese President Xi Jinping, seemed to question whether China will stick to its word.
“The question now is, are words followed by actions?” Obama said. “We will be watching carefully to make an assessment as to whether progress has been made in this area.”
The U.S. has been pressing China for years to stop conducting cyberespionage on U.S. companies. While the U.S. defends its own vast surveillance programs, it argues there should be an international norm against stealing business secrets to benefit a country’s own companies.
Obama warned that the U.S. could impose sanctions if it finds proof of commercial espionage. He seems to be looking to follow President Reagan’s policy with the Soviet Union of “trust, but verify”—but the problem is that verifying responsibility for a cyberattack can be extremely difficult.
Adam Segal, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies China policy and cyberconflict, called the agreement “significant,” but he added that China can easily claim an attack came from some lone hacker rather than the government itself. China has long denied that it is behind cyberattacks on the U.S.