Cyber attacks and human rights will be at the top of the agenda at a key meeting Friday between the leaders of the U.S. and China, two countries that are still trying to reconcile an inseparable trade relationship with elements of distrust lurking in the wings.
President Barack Obama will host Xi Jinping at a summit on the 200-acre Sunnyland estate in Palm Springs, Calif. on Friday afternoon, marking the first time the leaders have officially met since the Chinese president was elected in a secretive and cloistered process in Beijing in March.
The bilateral meetings follow reports less than three weeks ago that an element of the Chinese Army has resumed cyber attacks against U.S. organizations and businesses, according to a report from private security group Mandiant. The unit has reportedly stolen hundreds of terrabytes of blue prints, pricing documents and other business information.
China remains, however, one of the U.S.' largest trading partners.
"One of the issues that threatens to damage U.S.-China relations, as well as potentially damage the international economy and China's reputation, is the use of cyber technology – particularly as a means of obtaining intellectual property from American companies and institutions," a senior White House official told reporters June 4.
"We expect this to become a standing issue in the U.S.-China relationship, given the importance of cybersecurity to the global economy," the official added. "Frankly, [that] means dealing with actions emanating from within your territory, so that if there are cyber threats emerging from within another country that pose a risk to U.S. businesses, we're going to raise that."
Obama is pushing for new legislation in Congress to protect U.S. infrastructure from cyber attacks. And China and the U.S. have agreed to a "high-level working group" to address the issue of cyber attacks among other security issues, beginning with a meeting in July.
"[We] have a significant concern that our businesses have confidence that there's not a threat being posed to their sensitive information," the official said.
The scope of Friday's meeting will also revolve around the close economic ties between the two countries. China is the third-largest exporting partner for the U.S., according to an April report from the U.S.-China Business Council, encapsulating $109 billion in goods in 2012.
Both countries are looking to expand that relationship, including discussions about worldwide climate and energy issues and working with organizations such as the G-20.
Xi has met with Obama before while serving as then-vice president of China. A February meeting in the Oval Office lasted for about 90 minutes. Obama also called Xi in March following his election to president.