The first meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese’s President Xi Jinping was supposed to be a relatively relaxed get together for the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies. Both leaders reportedly wanted to set the foundation for a stable, productive relationship as they relaxed at the 200-acre Sunnylands estate in Palm Springs, California.
President Obama specifically hoped to press Xi on the issue of cybersecurity. Chinese hackers reportedly have attacked The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Google, Intel, Adobe Systems, Apple, Twitter, Facebook and the Federal Reserve.
And the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property reports that U.S. companies lose more than $300 billion every year to intellectual property theft and China is responsible for 50% to 80% of that, often through hacking.
But the best laid plans often go awry, as the saying goes.
More specifically, revelations that the U.S. government itself has a secret surveillance program covering almost all U.S. phone and email communications impaired President’s Obama’s ability to discuss cybersecurity with the Chinese president.
Disclosure of that program “certainly weakened U.S. claims against China,” says Michal Meidan, senior analyst in Eurasia Group’s Asia practice.
Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, announced on Sunday that he was the whistleblower who leaked the secret surveillance report and was living in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.
Related: Federal Reserve Gets Hacked!
Snowden told The Guardian, which broke the secret surveillance story, that he chose to flee to Hong Kong because "Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech."
The Guardian reports Monday that Hong Kong is unlikely to offer Snowden a permanent refuge but he could buy time by filing an asylum request there.
"The Chinese will want to avoid getting caught up in this…As the momentum is turning after two very fraught years in U.S.-Chinese ties, they will want to try to avoid these irritants or issues that would deteriorate ties," says Meidan.
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