The US and China have clashed over cyber security after president Obama criticised the Chinese government for its plans to demand encryption keys from companies selling technology in the country.
Obama told Reuters TV that the requirement is far too onerous and that companies selling to China would be unwilling to comply.
"This is something that I’ve raised directly with president Xi. We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the US,” he said.
"[The laws] would essentially force all foreign companies, including US companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they can snoop and keep track of all the users of those services. As you might imagine, tech companies are not going to be willing to do that.”
Such a move is likely to have major implications for firms such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco which are increasingly selling to China.
However, the comments have already drawn sharp criticism from China, which accused the US of hypocrisy given its track record of meddling with encryption technologies and hacking into company systems to gather information.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunyin said: “The legislation is China's domestic affair, and we hope the US side can take a right, sober and objective view towards it.
“On the information security issue, there is media revelation that a certain country embedded spying software in the computer systems of another country's Sim cards for surveillance activities.”
This is a reference to recent claims that the US accessed the encryption protocols of Dutch firm Gemalto, which manufacturers some two billion Sim cards a year, in order to have immediate access to communications around the world.
“All countries are paying close attention to this and taking measures to safeguard their own information security, an act that is beyond any reproach,” added Hua.
State news agency Xinhua also pointed out the contradiction in the US stance after it criticised Apple and Google for putting encryption standards in devices that are becoming too hard to be easily cracked.
The clash comes as a new security vulnerability called ‘Freak’ came to light which can trace its roots back to US attempts to interfere with encryption standards in the 1990s.
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