SHANGHAI — President Xi Jinping is presiding over a new working group on cybersecurity and information security, China announced Thursday, a sign that the Communist Party views the issue as one of the country’s most pressing strategic concerns.
The government said Xi and two other senior leaders, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, would help draft national strategies and develop major policies in a field that might include protecting national secrets and developing cyberdefenses, among other goals.
“Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyberpower,” Xi said in a statement released after the first meeting of the group Thursday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The announcement comes at a time when Xi is solidifying power, mounting a bold crackdown on corruption at the top of the Communist Party and pushing through reforms aimed at strengthening and restructuring the country’s economy.
In his first year in office, Xi, 60, seems determined to signal that he is firmly in control, amassing powers that some analysts say harken back to Deng Xiaoping’s reign as the country’s supreme leader.
Late last year, Xi was named to head a leading working group on overall reform and a state security committee that some experts say was inspired by the National Security Council, which advises US presidents. He has also presided over a government that tightened control over the news media and Internet microblogs.
The new leading group of cybersecurity and “informatization” could be aimed at grappling with one of the thornier issues that emerged in Xi’s first year in office: disputes with the United States over cyberattacks and debates over national security leaks.
The Obama administration has strongly challenged China over the past few years to curb what it contends are Chinese cyberattacks on Americans and US companies doing business in China. Among the concerns is that Chinese hackers, possibly state sponsored, have been stealing corporate and national secrets.
Beijing has responded that it, too, has been a frequent victim of cyberattacks, many originating in the United States. The Chinese government has also insisted that it opposes hacking in any form.
The issue was one of the most sensitive that came up in June when Xi joined President Barack Obama for a summit meeting at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Analysts say the talks between the two powers have grown more complicated since revelations that the National Security Agency has engaged in widespread spying around the world, even against U.S. allies.
Experts say the issue has major implications for large corporations in the United States and China, which could find themselves blocked from doing business in the other country in areas like telecommunications or Internet security.