The Obama administration’s decision to bring criminal charges against members of the Chinese military is already showing signs of straining the U.S. relationship with China.
Shortly after the Justice Department accused five Chinese officers of hacking U.S. companies, China announced that it is withdrawing from a joint cybersecurity working group. The U.S. and China launched the working group last year to try to reach agreements over the use of cyber espionage.
Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese government, said China will announce more retaliations “as the situation evolves.”
According to the indictments, the five men were members of a hacking group that stole trade secrets from major U.S. companies including Westinghouse, United States Steel, and Alcoa.
But the Chinese spokesman claimed the charges were “based on deliberately fabricated facts.” He also pointed to the Edward Snowden leaks as evidence that the U.S. is hypocritical when it condemns others for spying.
“China is a victim of severe U.S. cybertheft, wiretapping, and surveillance activities,” he claimed.
When Attorney General Eric Holder announced the indictments Monday, he emphasized that China’s behavior is fundamentally different than spying by the National Security Agency. The U.S. may spy on other countries, but it does not steal secrets to give its own companies an economic edge, he argued.
Adam Segal, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, said it’s not likely that China will try to bring criminal charges against NSA officials or other members of the U.S. government. But he said he expects China to take other steps against the U.S. in the coming days.
Segal explained that China doesn’t see an important distinction between spying to protect national security and spying to help domestic companies.
“There’s not such a clear line between the public and private sector in China,” he said. “Their conception of economic power and national power doesn’t really see this distinction.”
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