"Attributing responsibility [for cyberattacks] is not easy, but no matter who is responsible, countries have to take responsibility for what emanates from inside their borders," the official told reporters Tuesday ahead of a two-day California summit between Obama and Xi beginning Friday evening.
"We expect [cybersecurity] to become a standing issue in the U.S.-China relationship," the official said. "We believe that all nations need to abide by international norms and follow the rules of the road, and that means dealing with actions emanating from your territory."
The Obama-Xi summit, at the 200-acre Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs, will be the leaders' first meeting since Xi became president in March.
The schedule includes a private dinner Friday followed by talks Saturday morning, the White House said.
Beijing denies it engages in cyber-espionage and has not acknowledged targeting U.S. companies and military sites. It is expected to argue the issue is overblown, analysts say.
"They think that China has been treated unfairly," Brookings Institution Research Director Cheng Li told British newspaper The Guardian.
"They think that certainly economic and North Korea [agenda items] would carry more weight, maybe some other issues as well," said Li, who is also a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
"But China is willing to talk about that issue, I believe, because they understand that the issue dominates American media at the moment," he said. "It's not conducive for a healthy and cooperative relationship, so China wants to explain its position."
The senior Obama administration officials were careful not to raise expectations of an immediate summit breakthrough but called for "recognition from China of the urgency and scope of the problem and the risks to their and our interests."
"We also need to get our own house in order, and that means strengthening cybersecurity standards," an official said.
Obama also will likely raise China's record on human rights and discuss North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, the Syrian civil war and the global economy, an official said.