Attorney General Eric Holder announces that a grand jury has charged five Chinese people with economic espionage and trade secret theft. / Charles Dharapak, AP
BEIJING â?? The Chinese government voiced strong opposition Monday to the U.S. government's indictment of five Chinese military hackers who Washington said stole secrets from six U.S. companies.
Beijing expressed no sign of cooperating in this case, instead accusing the U.S. government of extensive hacking activities against Chinese officials, institutions, enterprises, universities and individuals.
"The U.S. side makes up facts, uses so-called Internet secret stealing to indict five Chinese military officers. This move seriously violates the basic norms of international relations and damages Sino-U.S. cooperation and mutual trust," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.
"China is a staunch defender of network security, and the Chinese government, military and associated personnel have never engaged in online theft of trade secrets," he said, calling the U.S. charges "extremely absurd."
China often describes itself as a victim of foreign cyber-attacks, sometimes from the United States. Whistle-blower Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA activities have proved very useful in countering Washington's critiques of China. The U.S. government's cyber-espionage activities abroad "are known to all," Qin said.
"If it's true, then so what?" said Shen Dingli, an international relations expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, where the five indicted military hackers are based.
"Edward Snowden told everyone that the U.S. has hacked [former] president Hu Jintao's classified information," Shen said. "Should China accuse the U.S.? China has complained and asked President Obama to stop cyber-attacks on China, but Obama has refused."
Shen doubted the spat would derail the multilayered relationship between two nations whose economies are increasingly reliant on each other.
"It is not a serious issue [for Beijing]. China would say we think it's ridiculous, how can the U.S. prove this, and why does the U.S. not stop hacking China?" he said. "Everybody is doing it. A mature country would not make it a big issue. China would handle it privately and would never announce to make it global news."
Chinese authorities maintain careful management of all news in China, where the U.S. indictment came after 10 p.m. local time Monday. In a reminder of how censored China's Internet environment remains, a simple, translated story on the indictment on the popular Netease website was soon deleted. Such censorship sometimes follows official orders or represents self-censorship by companies anticipating what authorities will dislike.
Until the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announcement, most websites carried little news on the story. Some Chinese posted comments on Weibo, a messaging platform like Twitter, which is banned in China.
"Every country is doing this; the one who doesn't is a fool," wrote Chen Xiao, the director of the ideological and political department of a private vocational institute in southern Guangdong province. "The point is who could do it brilliantly, who could do it without being caught?"
Finance writer Zhan Hao asked, "A country which monitors the whole world's leaders, and the whole of America, still has what credibility worth trusting?"
Dai Xu, a military commentator with nationalistic views, wrote, "All the countries in the world haven't united to sue the USA; that's to stop it losing face. Now it's being unreasonable and making a scene."
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