BEIJING (Reuters) - China opposes Internet attacks and wants to work with the United States in cyberspace but will defend its interests, a senior Chinese official said on Thursday, after U.S. President Barack Obama warned of a forceful response to hacking.
Tension over cyber security will take center stage during Chinese President Xi Jinping's first state visit to the United States next week.
Obama told executives on Wednesday the United States had emphasized to China that industrial espionage in cyberspace would be considered an "act of aggression", and called for an international framework to prevent the Internet from being "weaponized".
Speaking to U.S. business leaders on Thursday, Xi said China and the United States could maintain common interests if both approached matters constructively and avoided strategic miscalculations, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said earlier the two countries faced "common challenges" on Internet security, making it especially important for them "to increase mutual trust and cooperation in cyberspace".
"At the same time, the Chinese government firmly safeguards its own interests in cyberspace and is resolutely opposed to any statements or actions that harm China's interests," Zheng told a briefing on Xi's visit.
Zheng said "we can cooperate and we should cooperate", including on setting international Internet standards.
Last week, U.S. officials said Washington was considering sanctions against Russian and Chinese individuals and companies for cyber attacks against U.S. commercial targets.
However, a person briefed on the White House's thinking said on Tuesday the United States does not plan to impose sanctions on Chinese entities for economic cyber attacks ahead of Xi's visit to avoid what would be seen as a diplomatic disaster.
The New York Times, citing unidentified sources, reported that Beijing had sent a letter to some U.S. firms this year asking them to promise they would not harm China’s national security and would store Chinese user data within the country.
Law enforcement cooperation is also likely to be on the agenda during Xi's visit, with Beijing pushing for help in tracking down and repatriating dozens of Chinese people in the United States wanted in China as part of a crackdown on corruption.
U.S. officials say they are not averse to such cooperation but, despite requests, China has failed to produce the kind of evidence of criminality needed under American law to support deportation.
Zheng said China had provided "ample" evidence.
"The name list for recovering dirty officials and dirty assets overseas that China has provided was made after a process of strict verification," Zheng said.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel