Cyber Detente Between the United States and China

Discussion Paper | October 18, 2012

Click here to download a Chinese translation of this report (prepared by the Center for National Security and Strategic Studies at the National University for Defense Technology in Changsa, Hunan)

It’s no secret that the United States and China have a contentious relationship when it comes to their cyber capabilities and intentions. But according to a new report released by the EastWest Institute, these two countries have common cyber concerns that could bring them to the table to lay the groundwork for diplomatic exchanges and solutions, avoiding an escalation of aggressive strategies from either country.

In Cyber Detente Between the United States and China: Shaping the Agenda, co-authors Greg Austin, EWI professorial fellow, and Franz-Stefan Gady, EWI associate, point out that through Track 2 processes some very useful preparatory work has already taken place. However, they argue that the diplomacy—both official and unofficial—needs to be more intense, to cover more concrete problems and to involve a larger number of people on both sides, especially from the military and private sector. The paper calls for a fresh appraisal of the impact of both countries’ military cyber policies.

“We should have no illusions that the two countries will agree quickly to a set of military confidence building measures in cyberspace,” said Austin. “But there is some room to lay the foundations to begin to bridge the bilateral divides by addressing issues that are closer to the civilian domain rather than exclusively military.

The paper recommends three specific proposals: a joint study on both countries’ critical information infrastructure; inclusion of China in the existing infrastructure of the 24/7 Network of Contacts for High-Tech Crime of the G-8; and reaching a common understanding of what constitutes cyber espionage.

“The challenge here, among many, is to deepen the conversations and reduce mistrust through enhanced transparency and predictability,” said Gady.

The release of the report coincides with the convening of the Third Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit in New Delhi on October 30-31, where leading experts will discuss these and many related issues. The first Worldwide Security Conference took place in Dallas in 2010, and the second in London in 2011.

For information on the 4th Worldwide Cybersecurity Trustbuilding Summit, please visit