WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States called Thursday on China to abide by what it called international rules in areas from cyber-hacking to freedom at sea as the world’s two largest economies waded into key disputes.
Chinese and U.S. officials were wrapping up an annual two-day meeting designed to address the gamut of issues in their complicated relationship, with both sides looking for at least small ways to expand cooperation.
In a sign of the importance he attaches to managing ties with the rising Asian power, President Barack Obama — who generally meets only leaders from other nations — plans to receive the two main Chinese delegates at the White House.
Obama has invested time in seeking a smooth relationship with China’s newly installed President Xi Jinping, meeting him for a weekend at a California desert resort last month, but has also stepped up the tone on hacking.
For the second day in a row, the United States raised charges that China has waged a vast hacking campaign to steal U.S. trade and government secrets, costing the economy billions of dollars through the counterfeiting of products.
“As major powers looking to forge a new model of relations, our countries have a responsibility to show restraint in our actions and abide by the rules meant to govern international affairs,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told a session.
“This means respecting the universality of human rights and addressing cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property,” Burns said.
Burns also called on China to “uphold the freedom of navigation” in the economically vital waterways of Asia, where U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines as well as Vietnam accuse Beijing of aggressively exerting its claims.
“Adhering to these and other global rules will help reduce uncertainty and, in turn, strengthen global security and increase steady economic growth,” Burns said.
A U.S. official said that Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday was “very forceful” on human rights concerns in China and raised specific cases. Burns later filled in for Kerry, who returned to Boston to see his hospitalized wife.
Vice President Joe Biden raised hacking concerns when he opened the talks on Wednesday, saying that “outright” theft by China “must be viewed as out of bounds and needs to stop.”
China insists it is also the victim of hacking and has demanded answers after U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden charged that U.S. spies had worked their way into the billion-plus nation’s Internet network.
Chinese officials, who often bristle at U.S. criticism, took a measured tone during the dialogue, whose format of formal, heavily scripted meetings is seen as appealing to Beijing.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked in Beijing about Biden’s remarks, said only that the two countries can make cyber-security “a new highlight of our bilateral cooperation instead of the source of friction.”
Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng, addressing reporters on the sidelines of the talks, spoke of progress on reaching a treaty to protect and encourage investment between the two countries.
“We hope that on top of what has been done, both sides can initiate their negotiations on substantive parts of the bilateral investment treaty as soon as possible,” he said.
Gao declined to give a more specific timeframe for the treaty, over which talks began five years ago.
The United States and China announced Wednesday that they would step up cooperation on fighting climate change, although their agreements were general in tone.
The two countries — which together pump out more than 40 percent of carbon blamed for the planet’s warming temperatures — said they would chart out plans by October in five areas including reducing emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.
Climate change is seen as a key area for collaboration as the leaders of both countries both see an interest in addressing the problem, even if Obama’s efforts are hobbled by opposition in Congress.
Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate body, called the agreements “welcome and important” and said that such efforts can help pave the way for an elusive successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.