U.S. – China Summit Should Focus on Common Interests and Advancing Innovation

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This week’s bilateral meetings between President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping will bring into focus core economic and strategic issues the two nations facing and, in key areas, the discussions will have significant economic and strategic overtones.  But while many of the stories previewing the discussions highlight topics where the countries disagree, the leaders should not let differences of opinion overshadow those areas where we have common interest and can advance a common good.  This includes identifying areas of mutual U.S.-China interest in cyberspace and advancing digital trade. 

The two governments have picked a smart approach to these discussions – at a California retreat, far outside of the formal pomp-and-ceremony of a state visit in Washington.  This enhances the ability for the two leaders to have genuine conversations and build trust.  With a loose agenda and no formal events driving their time together, President Obama and President Xi Jinping will have a rare opportunity for a dialogue that allows each of them a greater understanding of the motivations and challenges the other leader faces.  While bold and unprecedented diplomatic breakthroughs are unlikely, there are a wide range of issues on which the U.S. and China can seek to achieve substantive progress. 

Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing cybersecurity rise to the top of the “to do” list for the summit.  In a call this afternoon to preview the talks, White House officials placed cyber in both an economic and strategic relationship priority list. 

 

There is an expectation that all of us are working together to protect the infrastructure of the global economy against cyber intrusions and that countries need to meet their responsibilities. 

There is a responsibility for governments to uphold the international rules of the road as it relates to the protection of digital infrastructure.

We need to have an open, candid, ongoing bilateral discussion on this issue so that our concerns are met.  We have an international framework for dealing with cybersecurity that protects the lifeblood of our economy.

 

That last part is key:  an “open, candid, ongoing bilateral discussion” on this issue.  The recently announced U.S.-China cyber working group will be an important channel for consistent, frank exchanges between the countries. 

As mentioned, there are a surprising number of areas where the U.S. and China share a common interest in securing cyberspace.  For example, a significant amount of the world’s manufacturing relies on Chinese power generation and distribution networks, and an increasing number of Chinese firms rely on networks run by U.S. financial institutions and their investors for sustained economic growth.  These are just two of many examples where we have mutual cyber security interests and concerns.  Both sides should recognize that the security of our global digital infrastructure is a shared interest. 

For our part, we will continue to urge both sides to work toward sharing best practices, better alignment towards consensus-driven, industry led global standards, and a strengthened focus on bad actors and threats that should be at the heart of any global cyber strategy.  (See our full set of principles, adopted with JEITA and DIGITALEUROPE.)  

Finally, both sides should discuss how the promotion of innovation and technology trade should be at the heart of any cyber security effort.  We in the tech community will continue to stress that the best cyber defense is achieved through innovation. 

And, while the cyber talks are important, we hope they don’t wash away attention from a number of other priorities areas, including advancement of market access and global trade. 

One core area is the current effort to expand the range of tech products included in the Information Technology Agreement (ITA).  China and the United States are two of the 76 nations involved in the negotiations underway in Geneva and we are within sight of a final agreement late this summer.  But we won’t get there unless China and the U.S. both exert more political leadership to drive the talks to conclusion.

The benefits to both nations – and to the world – are significant.  With experts concerned about potential slowdowns in China’s economy, and many other countries seeing sluggish growth as a result of the lingering effects of the worldwide recession, the ITA offers an immediate accelerant for job growth and expanded trade.  The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation has reported:

 

[A]n expanded ITA could remove tariffs on at least an additional $800 billion in ICT trade globally, a 20 percent increase over the $4 trillion now covered annually.  Moreover, ITIF estimates that ITA expansion would increase U.S. exports of ICT products by $2.8 billion, boost revenues of U.S. ICT firms by $10 billion, and support creation of approximately 60,000 new U.S. jobs throughout the economy.

 

ITIF also projects that a successful ITA expansion would give the global economy a boost of $190 billion annually. 

ITA expansion fits well within the White House’s goals for the summit to focus on “issues directly relevant to the lives of the American people.”  There is no issue with greater importance to the nation right now than jobs.  ITA expansion – with the estimated 60,000 jobs it would bring to the U.S. – is one way to jumpstart solid economic growth.  This initiative will also directly help to improve cybersecurity as the best cyber defense is innovation, and ITA expansion will be a boost for tech innovation worldwide. We hope that the two presidents will work quickly and constructively to bring the expansion talks to a successful conclusion by the end next month.

We’ll keep readers up to speed on the talks and our analysis of the outcomes.  

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