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China Suspends US China Cyber Group Following Indictments

Press materials are displayed on a table of the Justice Department in Washington, May 19, 2014, before Attorney General Eric Holder was to speak at a news conference.
China has responded strongly to the U.S. indictment of five Chinese military officers, calling the charges a pure fabrication. Beijing's foreign ministry is calling for the United States to withdraw the indictment and says it is suspending the activities of a joint cyber working group.

In a rare and swift response to the indictment, China’s foreign ministry posted statements on its Web site in both English and Chinese calling the U.S. allegations “ungrounded and absurd.”

The ministry repeated China’s oft-stated position that the Chinese military and its personnel have never engaged in the electronic theft of trade secrets. It accused the U.S. of what it called “severe cyber theft, wiretapping and surveillance activities.”

Wang Dong, a professor of international relations at Peking University, said the U.S. announcement was bizarre. He voiced concern about the lasting impact it could have relations between the two countries.

“It’s not a conventional diplomatic move any country would take, much less in terms of U.S.-China relations. This reminds people of the Cold War. It’s just like a slap in the face of another country,” said Wang.

China and the United States have made strides over the past year toward improved relations, but its unclear how lasting an impact the indictments could have.

Many commenters on Chinese social media sites see the allegations as hypocritical. One post says that, based on recent revelations of secret U.S. monitoring of domestic and international communications, China’s justice department should indict President Barack Obama.

The foreign ministry also alluded to the revelations by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, noting that “large amounts of publicly disclosed information show” the U.S. has been conducting similar cyber activities against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities and individuals.

“People do see a very clear hypocrisy here. Whenever it comes to the United States, American officials want to explain this away by saying that everyone is engaging in espionage,” said Wang.

U.S. officials said there was a difference.

In the latest case, the U.S. Justice Department has accused Chinese military officers of stealing information to benefit Chinese companies - many of them state-owned - which compete with U.S. companies. The U.S. government says that is a tactic it categorically denounces.