John Kerry hits out at Chinese cyber-spying

John Kerry has condemned computer espionage at meetings in Beijing amid new reports of Chinese hacking of US offices

US secretary of state John Kerry condemned Chinese cyber-espionage in unusually strong terms while wrapping up a series of high-level meetings in Beijing on Thursday, as reports surfaced that Chinese hackers breached the US office of personnel management (OPM) earlier this year.

"Instances of cyber theft have harmed our business and threatened our nation's competitiveness," Kerry said at a joint closing session of the sixth annual strategic and economic dialogue, as it wrapped up its second day. "The loss of intellectual property through cyber [spying] has a chilling effect on innovation and investment."

Although cyber-espionage has been a major sticking point in US-China affairs for years, tensions ramped up in May after US prosecutors indicted five Chinese military officers for stealing information from US companies. Beijing responded in its state-run press by accusing Washington of "double standards", and by suspending a planned Sino-US working group on cyber-security issues.

On Wednesday night, the New York Times reported that Chinese hackers targeted the OPM in March, possibly seeking to gather information on tens of thousands of federal employees who had applied for top-secret security clearances. They gained some access before federal employees discovered the breach and blocked them from the network. Washington has not "identified any loss of personally identifiable information", an unnamed department of homeland security official told the paper. Another official said that although the attack was traced to China, it remains unclear whether the hackers had government ties.

China foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei brushed off the allegation at a regular press briefing on Thursday. "Some US media and US cyber security [firms] always smear China and create the theory that China is a cyber threat, but they can't provide sufficient evidence of that," he said. "We feel strongly that these kinds of reports and comments are irresponsible and not worth a comment or refuting."

On Thursday, Kerry also discussed the denuclearisation of North Korea with his Chinese counterparts, as well as a slew of economic issues, such as currency and property rights.

"China and the United States represent the greatest economic alliance trading partnership in the history of humankind and it is only going to grow," Kerry told a breakfast meeting of prominent Chinese and American business leaders on Thursday morning, according to AFP.

"Business is a backbone of the China-US economic relationship," China's state councillor Yang Jiechi told the meeting.


Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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