BEIJING— China has lodged a protest with the U.S. Ambassador in Beijing in response to accusations that five Chinese military officers engaged in cyber theft and espionage targeting American companies and labor groups. China also says it could take further steps in response to the indictments.
China’s Foreign Ministry says Beijing lodged the protest late Monday night to U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, shortly after the indictments were announced.
China has flatly denied the accusations and called on the United States to revoke the indictment.
Beijing says it is Washington that owes the world an explanation about its own behavior in cyberspace. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says that “instead of giving an explanation, the U.S. is blurring right and wrong.” He says, “China is demanding that the U.S. give a clear explanation and stop such activities.”
In the past, the U.S. has accused China of hacking computers to steal everything from military technology to commercial secrets. But the indictments are the first attempt to hold individuals accountable for the crimes.
When pressed about whether China engages in cyber hacking on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei flatly denied the country has ever been involved in the use of cyber-theft of trade secrets. He also denied China has ever used hacking against its own people.
China says revelations made public by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and Wikileaks highlight the hypocrisy of the United States when it comes to cyber security.
In its indictment, the United States alleges the military officers were part of a Chinese military hacking group called unit 61398. But, U.S. officials have been careful to point out that their key concern is the use of hacking to steal commercial secrets to benefit Chinese companies.
China’s Defense Ministry has flatly denied the charges and warned the indictments could not only impact an ongoing dialogue over cyber security but military ties as well.
Wu Riqiang, a political scientist at Beijing’s Renmnin University says he finds the indictments baffling.
Wu says, “ China and the United States have just started a dialogue on Internet security that Washington has been asking for for a long time and Beijing just recently finally agreed.” But now with the indictments, Wu says, “this has completely destroyed this newly established dialogue.”
He says that although the United States and China have their own concerns about cyber security, those concerns should be handled behind closed doors, not by applying pressure in public.
Wu says that “in the short term it will be really hard to even begin holding talks again,” adding that this has “shut the door on talks all together.”
AmCham China Chairman Gregory Gilligan says cyber security is a major concern for the business community.
In a statement on Tuesday, Gilligan says the group sees a “fundamental difference between intelligence gathering for legitimate national security purposes and intelligence gathering for stealing trade secrets.”
He says the group is urging both governments to reach an agreement on the rules of the road that helps to clarify the difference between the two.