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Chinese President Xi Jinping takes charge of new cyber effort

Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the cybersecurity group’s first meeting Thursday, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. He emphasized that Internet security is “a major strategic issue concerning a country’s security and development as well as people’s life and work,” according to Xinhua. (2009 photo by Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)

Chinese President Xi Jinping personally took charge of a new government body overseeing China’s cybersecurity and vowed Thursday to turn China into a
“cyber power,” according to state-run media.

Xi’s move to head up the new Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and China over concerns about cyber-
intrusions carried out
by both governments. It also takes place on the heels of a crackdown by Chinese authorities on online dissent that has resulted in the arrest and suppression of numerous bloggers.

Xi presided over the group’s first meeting Thursday, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. He emphasized that Internet security is “a major strategic issue concerning a country’s security and development as well as people’s life and work,” according to Xinhua.

“Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyber power,” the news agency quoted Xi as saying.

The government released sparse details about the group. Premier Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, both members of the Communist Party’s Standing Committee, China’s most powerful body, were named as the cyber group’s deputy heads.

State-run CCTV outlined several goals of the group, including the drafting of a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy and coordination of cybersecurity across sectors. According to CCTV, Xi tied the importance of government work on securing the Inter­net to long-term priorities, such as maintaining control over public opinion in China.

The state-run TV station said Xi sounded notes of alarm, saying China lags behind in innovation and faces a widening digital gap between its rural and urban areas. He also noted that the average bandwidth available to most Chinese residents is lower than in many developed countries.

Xi compared the twin goals of developing China’s information technology and its cybersecurity capabilities to “two wings of a bird and two wheels of an engine.”

A report last year by an American security firm, Alexandria-based Mandiant, linked a Chinese military unit to several cyber­attacks on companies. U.S. officials have taken a tough stance on Chinese cyberattacks, saying the government was even using them to steal commercial data from private U.S. companies.

But some say the U.S. position has been undermined by revelations from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the American government carried out sophisticated and large-scale ­cyber-surveillance of other countries, including China.

And as more disclosures of U.S. cyber-surveillance have come to light, Chinese officials have expressed mounting worries about their vulnerabilities, and many have called for avoiding U.S. hardware in sensitive sectors of government and industry.

The fallout has put a significant dent in major U.S. tech companies’ business here. Cisco’s revenue in China has dropped because of the backlash after the Snowden revelations, company officials say.

This month, Chinese anti-
monopoly regulators revealed that they were investigating the U.S. chip company Qualcomm on allegations of overcharging.

While neither China nor the company have publicly linked the investigation to tensions over
cybersecurity, Qualcomm chief executive Paul Jacobs told the Wall Street Journal in November that “we are definitely seeing increased pressure. All U.S. tech companies are seeing pressure. . . . You have to be very cautious. We are always very careful with whatever steps we take. How we sell. How we interact.

Liu Liu contributed to this report.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.


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