“Stopping it is going to be difficult because it means them stopping something that makes them money,” said James Lewis, a former US foreign service officer who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies heavily involved in talks with China.
After years of officially sanctioned discussions on cybersecurity between the US and Chinese think tanks, the door to more serious talks may also be quietly opening. For the first time this year, the two countries will officially discuss cybersecurity as part of a wider formal strategic dialogue.
In a shift toward cooperation with China, the top US general in charge of cybersecurity, General Keith Alexander, said at the Cybersecurity Summit in Washington last week that he or his successor would be willing to meet his Chinese counterpart when the time was right.
Sometimes, though, the US prefers publicly challenging China to quiet diplomacy.
US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said Washington took a decision to complain more in public this year about hacking by China after crossing what he called “the threshold of frustration.”
Since doing so, some current and former officials say the level of Chinese hacking has declined slightly.
Some discussions between the two countries’ militaries can be tense, particularly around US “strategic rebalancing” plans, such as strengthening military ties to countries such as Japan and Australia, and eventually increasing to 60 percent the number of navy ships devoted to the Pacific.
Keltz said Chinese officials told him the Pacific should simply be divided in two, with the US dominating one half and China the other.
“That is fundamentally not what the United States is going to do and it’s not what most of the other countries in the region want us to do,” Keltz said. “I think [Chinese officials] are beginning to understand that.”