US and China officials have attempted to hold their first working-group meeting on cybersecurity in the midst of the NSA global surveillance scandal.
The representatives met on Monday to discuss how best to tackle attacks by hackers. The summit was organised in April before ex-CIA technician Edward Snowden blew the lid off the wide-reaching American PRISM project that spies on the world's phone and internet communications. It's claimed this gathered communications data is shared with Blighty's spooks at the GCHQ eavesdropping nerve-centre.
China has since made it clear that it reckons it's a bit rich of the US to be constantly accusing the Communist nation of digital espionage when it appears that the US government has been engaged in such a wide campaign of electronic snooping.
A commentary on state news agency Xinhua pointed to reports from the South China Morning Post - based in Snowden's one-time hideout Hong Kong - which suggested that Washington had hacked into the computer systems of major Chinese telcos and a top university.
"These, along with previous allegations, are clearly troubling signs. They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age," Xinhua said.
The US has long accused China of orchestrating raids on American organisations' computers networks for commercially valuable trade secrets - hacking attacks it tries to frame as different from the general run-of-the-mill diplomatic espionage that countries are expected to carry out against each other.
In another editorial, the news agency said many Chinese found it "bizarre" that the US could try to retain a position as a victim of electronic cloak-and-dagger operations after the revelations.
"While admitting its extensive hacking activities, the US side now argues that while it did spy on other countries, it didn't do it for commercial purposes. However, without giving any details or proofs, it sounds like an attempt to cover one's old mistake with a new excuse, and a bad one," the agency added.
When questioned ahead of the meeting about what kind of a shadow the PRISM revelations would throw on the meeting, the US State Department refused to be drawn.
"I’m not going to validate the range of accusations being made by Mr Snowden," spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
"I will say that, of course, this is an open conversation and the US will raise our own concerns, and certainly I would send you to the Chinese for them to talk about what their concerns may be."
She added that the State Department was hopeful that the meeting would allow the "two sides to share perspectives on international laws and norms in cyberspace, raise concerns as needed, develop processes for future cooperation, and set the tone for future constructive and cooperative bilateral dialogues".
The cybersecurity meeting came just ahead of an annual forum between the two nations known as the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which will kick off tomorrow.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will meet China State councillor Yang Jiechi and Vice-Premier Wang Yang to discuss everything from North Korea to climate change to financial markets. The topic of computer security is also likely to come up at the summit. ®