China cyber attacks
China cyber attacks

STATE DEPARTMENT - U.S. officials say they are watching closely to ensure that China abides by its cybersecurity commitments, following the first meeting between the two sides since they struck an anti-hacking agreement in September. 

On Wednesday, a group of Chinese and U.S. officials met to discuss "international norms of state behavior" and other issues. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the meeting — the so-called Senior Experts Group on International Norms and Related Issues — as "positive, in-depth and constructive." 

U.S. officials provided few details about the talks, and they declined to engage in "grading" China's follow-through on cyber commitments. However, the State Department called the meeting a "good indication that we stay engaged."

"They spoke about international security in cyberspace, the international law on state behavior in cyberspace, voluntary international norms of state behavior, [and] cyber confidence-building measures," said State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau during Thursday's briefing.

The talks came a month before Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are scheduled to attend the high-level annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held in Beijing.

Signs of progress

The United States has clashed with China for years over cyber-enabled theft for commercial gain by state actors. 

Washington and Beijing agreed during President Barack Obama's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last fall that neither government would conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled economic espionage to advance business interests. 

A senior U.S. official said Washington got a promise from Beijing to end state support for cybertheft after a "significant sanctions package" was threatened.

Computer hackers inside China are believed to be one of the major groups responsible for stealing U.S. intellectual property that is estimated to be worth about $300 billion each year.

"Part of the challenge is China has never historically acknowledged that it engaged in that kind of activity," Scott Harold of Rand Corporation's Center for Asia-Pacific Policy told VOA.

But there may be signs that the U.S.-China cyber agreement may be having an impact. Harold said that private-sector companies that provide cybersecurity have indicated that the Chinese cyber-espionage groups they were tracking have changed their behavior and their targeting.

"Not entirely, not in every case, but in large enough numbers, it appears to be ... that the agreement of last September actually carries consequences in the real world for Chinese behavior," he said.

China canceled a separate bilateral cyber-working group in 2014 as a move to protest the U.S. indictment of five Chinese military officials on charges of hacking. The new initiative appears to be a fresh start to cope with cyber issues.

Wang Qun, deputy-general for arms control and disarmament affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who also led Wednesday's meeting, said Washington and Beijing share interests in promoting a rules-based cyberspace.