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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Tracking the Issues: Taking on China and Cyber Security

by Newsteam Staff
April 4, 2012

The women's wrestling competition at the Combat Games in Beijing September 1, 2010. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)


The U.S.-China relationship is being strained by Chinese cybertheft of U.S. intellectual property, providing new fodder for election-year politicking.

Intellectual property theft by the Chinese is destroying the U.S. competitive edge, writes Richard A. Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism adviser, in a New York Times op-ed. Cyber attacks, Clarke argues, will soon outpace terrorism as the FBI’s biggest concern.

A complex web of cyber security legislation meant to tackle the problem is caught up in election-year politics (Politico). Obama has to decide if putting the full force of the White House behind one or more of the bills on national security grounds is worth the risk of being perceived as infringing on privacy rights. And, while Republicans are advocates for stricter cyber security, some analysts suggest they are reluctant to hand the president a policy win so close to the election.

Clarke says President Barack Obama can use existing statues–including the Customs Authority and the Intelligence Act–to stave off the cyber threat, while protecting U.S. information without infringing on privacy.

The GOP presidential candidates have vowed to aggressively take on the problem of Chinese intellectual property theft and the issue of the U.S.-China trade imbalance. Mitt Romney’s economic plan includes strategies for protecting U.S. intellectual property by punishing Chinese companies that use stolen U.S. technology, while also declaring China a currency manipulator. In an October 2011 Republican debate, Santorum said in reference to trade issues with China, “I don’t want to go to a trade war, I want to beat China.”

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on U.S. Policy toward China.

Suggested Other Reading:

A new Brookings study by U.S. analyst Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Chinese policy analyst Wang Isi outlines the underlying issues that have contributed to mounting U.S.-China distrust. The two countries must have a more open dialogue on military, cyber, and trade issues in order to prevent distrust from morphing into an openly-confrontational conflict, Lieberthal and Wang conclude.

China’s rising global role, increasing assertiveness and upcoming leadership transition may pose significant challenges for the next U.S. president, says CFR’s Elizabeth C. Economy, in this video.

CFR’s Adam Segal testifies on China’s technology policies, arguing that while the long-term impact is uncertain, the United States must push back to maintain its comparative advantage.

Foreign Policy‘s Daniel W. Drezner says that while China has a vested interest in a U.S. economic recovery, the United States also needs the Chinese market to remain strong. “Relations with China would be difficult if Beijing suffered a growth slowdown,” he writes.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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