By Paul Eckert
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States and China will need to work out a high-level understanding to limit cyber attacks and spying, U.S. elder statesman Henry Kissinger said on Tuesday.
"There's really no way to solve this except by some kind of understanding of limitations," said Kissinger, a former U.S. secretary of state and an architect of U.S. opening of relations with China in the 1970s.
"If you take it case by case it will lead to accusations and counter-accusations," he said at an event hosted by Thomson Reuters.
Chinese entities have been suspected in a spate of attacks on Google Inc email accounts of U.S. officials, think tanks and media, as well as Chinese democracy activists and Tibetan exiles.
Kissinger said he assumed both the United States and China had significant espionage capabilities and the key was finding the way to discuss them with the Chinese.
"To define what the limitations might be -- that is the sort of challenge with five-year perspective that absolutely needs to guide our relations," he said.
Jon Huntsman, until recently U.S. ambassador to China, likened raising cyber attacks with Beijing to the challenge of discussing missile defense and the military use of space -- issues that are also highly sensitive to the Chinese.
"I don't think we have any idea how deep and how wide and the extent of the penetrations of the public and private sectors go," he said of recent cyber attacks blamed on entities in China. China denies being behind the attacks.
"At some point, we are going to have to develop a context in which we can actually discuss this and, I would think, draw some red lines around areas that we don't want them into and they might not want us into," Huntsman said.
SOUTH CHINA SEA DIPLOMACY
Huntsman's two years in Beijing as President Barack Obama's envoy coincided with deepening U.S.-China economic interdependence and cooperation on global problems, but also clashes over currency, Internet freedom and human rights.
Recent tensions over maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea pitting China against Vietnam, the Philippines and two other Southeast Asian states provides "an enormously powerful opportunity for us to shore up our ties with the ASEAN world, the 10 countries of ASEAN," said Huntsman.
The four ASEAN countries that have territorial disputes with China, which claims the entire South China Sea, are afraid to face Chinese pressure alone. Washington can "help backstop them through multilateral problem-solving," he said.
Kissinger, whose secret diplomacy with China in 1971 paved the way for U.S.-China diplomatic normalization in 1979, said the United States should forge closer relations with China even as it courts the Southeast Asians.
"Do it in a way that it does not look like a military containment policy," he said.
Huntsman, who told the Thomson Reuters event he would on June 21 enter the Republican Party race to choose a candidate to run against Obama, said the United States and China are "never going to reconcile our differences."
It was more important, he said, that the two powers "have the ability to discuss our longer-term aspirations, our hopes and our interests."
"Until such time as we fashion something that is driven by the heads of state in regular consultation the ability to review our aspirations, their aspirations and develop some sort of overlay with respect to shared interests, we're going to have a fairly unpredictable ride," said Huntsman.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Will Dunham, Cynthia Osterman and Eric Walsh)