It is hard to put much stock into the agreement between the United States and China in which the two countries agree to stop stealing industrial secrets from each other. The United States, after all, is the owner of the NSA, which based on its scale and method of operation is the unacknowledged largest industrial espionage organization ever. Meanwhile, dozens of the largest and most famous Internet-era break-ins have been controlled from China and could only have been accomplished by criminal enterprises collaborating with the Chinese central government. Neither government admits to any wrongdoing. Neither has signaled any imminent change.
Trade secrets also are not the key to economic growth. The rhetoric of the new agreement is nonetheless welcome. The heads of state of two of the most successful countries in the world are essentially saying that a legitimate enterprise ought to be able to prosper without stealing secrets from its competitors. That is certainly true. A business predicated on stealing secrets is not only a criminal enterprise, but one on the brink of collapse. Now Xi and Obama are saying we must do better. Rhetoric often precedes reality, and that is a truism that may hold in this case too.