The gloves are off. For years, the White House has danced around the sensitive topic of Chinese hacking into American computer systems that is believed to have compromised everything from electrical grids to the email accounts of researchers focusing on China’s human-rights record. Public finger-pointing at Chinese hackers has been left largely to the American legislative branch or to private Western cyber-security firms like Mandiant or McAfee, which have produced reports linking the Chinese military to online espionage. Even when U.S. President Barack Obama warned of the dangers of cyberwarfare in his State of the Union Address last month and then issued an executive order to protect America’s online borders, he declined to specifically name China as an offender.
No more. On March 11, U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon said that Chinese hacking had become a “key point of concern” in bilateral relations. “Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber-intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale,” Donilon said in remarks to the Asia Society, a non-profit organization based in New York. “The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country.”
For its part, China has consistently denied any state-sponsored hacking campaign. Only two days before Donilon’s speech, China’s outgoing Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi lashed out at the U.S. for the recent drumbeat of accusations blaming China for cyber-attacks. “Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve a political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others or whitewash themselves,” he said at a news conference during the National People’s Congress, the annual Chinese leadership confab currently underway in Beijing. Yang went on to call for increased regulation of this new frontier: “Cyberspace needs not war, but rules and cooperation. We oppose cyberspace becoming a new battlefield, and to using the Internet as a new tool to interfere in another country’s internal affairs.”
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