China Daily said cyber attacks from the US had been “as grave as the ones the US claims China has conducted”, and quoted a senior cyber security official as calling on Washington not to openly press Beijing over cyber attacks.
The warning comes as Mr Obama is under pressure to do just that at his first presidential summit with Mr Xi at the Annenberg Estate in California on Friday.
“We have mountains of data, if we wanted to accuse the US, but it’s not helpful in solving the problem,” Huang Chengqing, director of the National Computer Network Emergency Response Team of China (CNCERT), told the English-language China Daily.
“The importance of handling internet security cases keeps rising, but the issue can only be settled through communication, not confrontation,” Mr Huang said, according to the paper.
CERTs are national bodies that try to detect and protect against internet security incidents.
After accusations by US researchers that the Chinese government and military are sponsoring an organised effort to steal US trade secrets through hacking, calls are mounting in Washington for the country to “name and shame” China or even retaliate with trade and visa sanctions.
Mr Huang’s remarks echo complaints by CNCERT’s chief engineer in an interview with the Financial Times last month that the politicisation of the cyber security issue was impeding CERTs’ efforts to exchange information and protect against attacks.
Beijing has been using the argument that China is one of the main victims of cyber attacks itself and many of those attacks emanate from the US. That is its standard response to US accusations of state-sponsored cyber theft from China, which is trying to set a more balanced framework for negotiations.
But Mr Huang’s comments mark the strongest language so far.
“It seems China is still in a remarkably weaker position because we have not accused the American government of cyber attacks against China,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Centre of American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing.
“So far, the Chinese government has not presented proof that a large portion of cyber attacks on China come from the US government. That is why it has not been able to substantially reduce America’s accusations.”
Mr Huang’s warning comes as Beijing frets the cyber security controversy could poison relations with Washington just as the two governments are trying to put ties on a smoother track with the summit between Mr Xi and Mr Obama.
Professor Shi said it would be difficult for Mr Obama to reject Beijing’s demand to discuss cyber security in closed-door meetings rather than in public, but the issue had “made bilateral relations more complicated”.