The gaping hole in Obama's plan to stop Chinese hacking

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The word “China” appears 120 times in the Obama administration’s just-released report, “Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets,” on combatting cyber-espionage against U.S. business. Of course, Chinese hacking is a threat to more than just American businesses: the Washington Post reports today that just about every powerful institution in the District, from federal agencies to think tanks to, yes, media organizations “have been penetrated by Chinese cyberspies.”

The Obama administration’s strategy, as Post cyber-security report Ellen Nakashima put it, has gotten “mixed reviews.” There are a few reasons for that, but the big one has to do with the U.S. diplomatic relationship with China, which is by far the biggest offender on cyber-espionage against the U.S.

The administration’s strategy places great emphasis on diplomacy, which would be central to any effort to actual stopping Chinese hacking rather than just playing a never-ending cat-and-mouse game against hackers in which the U.S. would inevitably win some rounds but lose others. But there’s reason to think that, for reasons particular to the U.S.-China relationship, it might also be extraordinarily difficult, and in ways that the formal strategy doesn’t really address.