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America and China are setting ground rules for cyberwarfare

Back when Russia and the United States were the top dogs, both countries were afraid of the devastation that a nuclear attack from the other could cause, and set some ground rules for how and when those weapons could be used. But now that we live in the Digital Age, it’s cyberwarfare that countries are most afraid of, and now China and the United States are negotiating what may very well be the world’s first cyberwarfare arms control accord. The two countries want to announce the agreement when Chinese Preisdent Xi Jinping visits the United States later this week.

The United States and China are negotiating what could become the first arms control accord for cyberspace, embracing a commitment by each country that it will not be the first to use cyberweapons to cripple the other’s critical infrastructure during peacetime, according to officials involved in the talks. While such an agreement could address attacks on power stations, banking systems, cellphone networks and hospitals, it would not, at least in its first version, protect against most of the attacks that China has been accused of conducting in the United States, including the widespread poaching of intellectual property and the theft of millions of government employees’ personal data. The negotiations have been conducted with urgency in recent weeks, with a goal to announce an agreement when President Xi Jinping of China arrives in Washington for a state visit on Thursday. President Obama hinted at the negotiations on Wednesday, when he told the Business Roundtable that the rising number of cyberattacks would “probably be one of the biggest topics” of the summit meeting, and that his goal was to see “if we and the Chinese are able to coalesce around a process for negotiations” that would ultimately “bring a lot of other countries along.”

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