Chinese officials have denied any wrongdoing a day after the US Justice Department filed criminal charges accusing five Chinese military officers of Internet-based spying on US corporations.
In a Defense Ministry statement and speech (Google translation into English) on Tuesday, Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng accused the US of hypocrisy about cyberespionage and called on the country to withdraw the indictment. He accused the US of spying on Chinese politicians, companies, and individuals, pointing to evidence revealed by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden's revelations.
The disagreement underscores the continuing vulnerability of computing infrastructure to skilled attackers. But it also shows that at least in some cases, skilled defenders can identify who's conducting those attacks. Stripping away anonymity opens the door to punishment, deterrence, and in this case, diplomatic friction.
The two countries have tussled for years over spying accusations, with no indication that either country has stopped. The US indictment of the five Chinese officers indicates that the US has strong evidence and wants to show there are consequences to the network-based attacks.
"This sort of legal action is a standard tactic in espionage. It sends a clear signal to the other side that their actions have become intolerable," said James Andrew Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
One difference between the two countries is on the legitimacy of industrial espionage, as opposed to political or military espionage. The five officers indicted Monday are accused of attacks that revealed information at Westinghouse, Alcoa, US Steel, ATI, USW, and SolarWorld, according to the indictment (PDF).
"What the U.S. objected to was espionage that had no national security rationale and was done only for commercial purposes, to give Chinese companies an unfair advantage in the market," Lewis said of US-China talks over the matter since 2010. But the Chinese view is different, he said, quoting a People's Liberation Army officer: "In the U.S., military espionage is heroic and economic espionage is a crime, but in China, the line is not as clear."