WASHINGTON -- The U.S. and China opened annual high-level talks on Wednesday, with both sides calling for greater mutual trust amid bilateral strains over cyber spying and security threats in northeast Asia.
The meetings, held at the State and Treasury departments in Washington, are intended to bring together Cabinet-level officials to enhance dialogue on potential cooperation in a wide range of security and economic areas, as well as on the deep-seated differences between the world's two largest economies.
A major focus for the U.S. is to press the Chinese to halt what Washington sees as state-sponsored cyber theft of trade secrets. In particular, American officials have sought to distinguish cyber espionage by governments from the stealing of technology for commercial gain.
"Outright cyber-enabling theft that U.S. companies are experiencing now must be viewed as out of bounds and needs to stop," Vice President Joe Biden said in remarks at the start of the fifth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, co-chairmen of the U.S. side, also mentioned cyber-attacks in their opening remarks.
The dialogue this year includes a working group on cyber security, and the issue was discussed during strategic security sessions ahead of the main meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. However, analysts aren't expecting any breakthroughs, and former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden's recent revelations of U.S. electronic surveillance is likely to make the task harder for the White House.
Chinese officials have repeatedly denied U.S. allegations of hacking attacks, and they haven't drawn such clear distinctions between cyber-espionage for political reasons and for commercial advantage.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, who with State Councilor Yang Jiechi is leading the Chinese side in the talks, did not cite cyber-spying or any other specific issue in his public opening statements Wednesday at the State Department. Yang made only a passing mention to cyber security, along with climate change, another area that has taken on greater significance in the dialogue.
U.S. officials have said hacking attacks now present a major challenge in economic relations with China, and that they add to the Americans' long-running complaint about Chinese theft of private intellectual property.
President Obama discussed commercial cyber spying during his meeting with new Chinese President Xi Jinping last month in Southern California. Their informal, necktie-less summit at the Sunnylands estate near Palm Springs provided for extended hours of talks, and officials on both sides say they hope they can build on that summit to shape practical outcomes during the dialogue this week and in future exchanges.
"I think neither side sees concrete deliverables as key to this particular meeting," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, noting that the new Chinese leadership is still sorting things out and that this is the first dialogue for all four leaders on the U.S. and China sides.
"But there will at least be an overall statement to highlight the scope of things addressed," he added, "and if they can agree on some specifics, you can be sure they'll point to them."
The meetings are to conclude Thursday, with a U.S. news conference scheduled for the evening.
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