BEIJING May 20 China has warned the United
States that it would retaliate if Washington presses on with
charges against five Chinese military officers accused of
hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets, state
media said on Tuesday.
The warning from an unnamed State Internet Information
Office spokesman came hours after the United States charged the
five Chinese, accusing them of hacking into American nuclear,
metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets.
It was the first criminal hacking charge that the United
States has filed against specific foreign officials, and follows
a steady increase in public criticism and private confrontation,
including at a summit last year between U.S. President Barack
Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The indictment is likely to further roil relations between
China and the United States. Besides cyber hacking, Washington
and Beijing have grappled over a range of issues, including
human rights, trade disputes and China's growing military
assertiveness over seas contested with its neighbors.
"If the United States continues to insist on going its own
way, China will take measures to resolutely fight back," the
spokesman told state news agency Xinhua and the People's Daily,
the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
He did not elaborate on the measures that China will take.
It is unclear if China could use its financial clout to
retaliate against the United States. China is the United States'
biggest foreign creditor. As of February, China held $1.27
trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds, according to Treasury
China's Foreign Ministry immediately denied the charges on
Monday, saying in a strongly worded statement the U.S.
indictment was "made up" and would damage trust between the two
The ministry said it would suspend the activities of a
Sino-U.S. working group on cyber issues, which American
officials believe refers to a joint effort established in April
2013 involving State Department expert Chris Painter and China
Foreign Ministry official Dai Bing.
The spokesman from the State Internet Information Office was
quoted by Xinhua as saying that the United States "attacks,
infiltrates and taps Chinese networks belonging to governments,
institutions, enterprises, universities and major communication
"Those activities target Chinese leaders, ordinary citizens
and anyone with a mobile phone," Xinhua quoted the spokesman as
"China has repeatedly asked the U.S. to stop, but it never
makes any statement on its wiretaps, nor does it desist, not to
mention apologise to the Chinese people."
Xinhua cited data from China's top Internet security agency,
the National Computer network Emergency Response technical Team
Coordination Center (CNCERT), which said a total of 2,077 Trojan
horse networks or botnet servers in the United States directly
controlled 1.18 million host computers in China during the
period from March 19 to May 18.
The CNCERT found 135 host computers in the United States
carrying 563 phishing pages targeting Chinese websites that led
to 14,000 phishing operations. The centre also found 2,016 IP
addresses in the United States had implanted backdoors in 1,754
Chinese websites, involving 57,000 backdoor attacks, during the
China has long singled out the United States as the top
source of intrusion on its computers and says it is a victim of
U.S. Federal prosecutors said on Monday that the suspects
targeted companies including Alcoa Inc, Allegheny
Technologies Inc, United States Steel Corp,
Toshiba Corp unit Westinghouse Electric Co, the U.S.
subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, and a steel workers'
In an indictment filed in the Western District of
Pennsylvania, prosecutors said the suspects hacked into
computers starting in 2006, often by infecting machines with
tainted "spear phishing" emails to employees that purport to be
Prosecutors alleged that one hacker, for example, stole cost
and pricing information in 2012 from an Oregon-based solar panel
production unit of SolarWorld. The company was losing market
share at the time to Chinese competitors who were systematically
pricing exports below production costs, according to the
Another suspect is accused of stealing technical and design
specifications about pipes for nuclear plants from Westinghouse
Electric as the company was negotiating with a Chinese company
to build four power plants in China, prosecutors said.
Officials declined to estimate the size of the losses to the
companies, but said they were "significant." The victims had all
filed unfair trade claims against their Chinese rivals, helping
Washington draw a link between the alleged hacking activity and
its impact on international business.
According to the indictment, Chinese state-owned companies
"hired" Unit 61398 of the People's Liberation Army "to provide
information technology services" including assembling a database
of corporate intelligence. The Chinese companies were not named.
The Shanghai-based Unit 61398 was identified last year by
cybersecurity firm Mandiant as the source of a large number of
espionage operations. All five defendants worked with 61398,
according to the indictment.
Unit 61398 has hundreds of active spies and is just one of
dozens of such bodies in China, said Jen Weedon, an analyst at
Mandiant, now owned by global network security company FireEye
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)