Although cyber relations between the United States and China became strained after numerous allegations during the past year of Chinese spying operations targeting the US, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) are now working on reestablishing a cyber dialogue.
At the end of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s recent visit to China, DHS announced Johnson and China’s Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun agreed that regular engagement between the two countries is “essential to ensure the growth and development of a productive homeland security and law enforcement relationship.”
In addition to improving cyber talks between the two countries, Shengkun and Johnson also agreed to improve cooperation on counterterrorism, repatriation and fugitive issues, maritime law enforcement in the Asia-Pacific, and stemming the proliferation of improvised explosive devices and precursor chemicals.
During their meeting on April 9 in Beijing, Johnson and Guo mutually committed to manage disagreements constructively and promote a productive US-China relationship. This agreement to promote bilateral homeland security and law enforcement cooperation emerges amid ongoing tension between the US and China.
Homeland Security Today reported in June that cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike discovered a “massive and unrelenting” decade-long Chinese cyber espionage campaign targeting US space, aerospace and communications sectors.
Dubbed “Putter Panda” because the Chinese hackers often targeted golf tournament conference attendees, the group operated on behalf of Unit 61486 of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China Third General staff department 12th Bureau headquartered in Shanghai. According to Crowdstrike, the PLA’s Third General Staff Department is "generally acknowledged to be China’s premier signals intelligence unit” and the 12th Bureau supports China’s space surveillance network.
Crowdstrike’s report emerged just weeks after the indictment of five Chinese military hackers—officers of Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army of China—by the US Department of Justice for online spying against US steel, nuclear power, and solar companies.
“This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represents the first-ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at the announcement of the indictment. “The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response. Success in the global market place should be based solely on a company’s ability to innovate and compete, not on a sponsor government’s ability to spy and steal business secrets.”
Moreover, Homeland Security Today reported in July that Chinese attackers penetrated the Office of Personnel Management—which stores applications for security clearances as well as personal information such as financial data, former jobs, past drugs use and foreign contacts of employees—in March before federal authorities detected and blocked the attacks.
News of the Chinese hacking attempt broke just as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew concluded the sixth roundof the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing to discuss a range of security and economic issues.
Kerry did not specifically mention the security breach during the talks, however, in the joint closing statement, he said, “The loss of intellectual property through cyber has a chilling effect on innovation and investment.”
And just recently, US companies expressed concern over China’s controversial decision to require foreign technology firms to use Beijing-approved encryption and submit any source code for government inspection. Trade groups worry the new cyber rules will not only restrict foreign companies’ ability to operate in the country, but also disclose sensitive intellectual property to the Chinese government.
Amid these strained relations, Johnson said the two sides recognize the need for increased dialogue. Shengkun will visit the US later this year to continue his meetings with Johnson and Chinese President Xi Jinxing will visit Washington in September.