President Obama Says US, China Must Develop 'Firm Understanding' of Cybersecurity

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - President Obama Friday night sought to make a clear distinction between his administration's domestic surveillance and cyber espionage, after the first in a series of meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping where cybersecurity topped the agenda.

"It's important … to distinguish between the deep concerns we have as a government about theft of intellectual property or hacking into systems that might disrupt those systems … versus some of the issues that have been raised around NSA programs," Obama told reporters.

The recent disclosure of the Obama administration's surveillance programs is threatening to overshadow the president's efforts to press Xi on the high-tech attacks that China is reportedly launching against the U.S.

"When it comes to those cybersecurity issues like hacking or theft, those are not issues that are unique to the U.S.-China relationship," Obama said. "Those are issues that are of international concern … and we're going to have to work very hard to build a system of defenses and protections … around setting up common rules of the road."

Sitting alongside Xi after their two-hour-plus meeting at the "Sunnylands" estate in Palm Springs, Obama said the leaders find themselves in "unchartered waters."

"It's critical as two of the largest economies and military powers in the world that China and the United States arrive at a full understanding of how we work together on these issues," he said.

The Chinese have so far denied such cyberattacks. Xi said his country is "firm in upholding cybersecurity" and that China is also a victim of cyber attacks.

Xi warned that new technology is a "double edge-sword" that can drive progress but also challenge governments. He added that he was hopeful the U.S. and China could work together on cybersecurity issues.