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Cyber theft case 'proves US-China ties in tense period'

Publication Date : 21-05-2014


China has responded strongly to the US' indictment of Chinese military officers for cyber theft, by reprimanding the US envoy, suspending activities in a joint cyber-security working group, and releasing data showing American hacking attempts on China.

Analysts say the dispute is the latest piece of proof that Sino-US ties have entered a "tense" period and could pose difficulties in their efforts to shape a "new model of major-country relationship".

Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned US ambassador Max Baucus on Monday night, after news broke that the US Justice Department would charge five People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers from a clandestine military unit with hacking US companies for trade secrets.

Citing how the US has not given a clear explanation for spying on foreign states like China, he told Baucus: "Instead, the US has distorted the truth and accused the victim. This way of doing things has further exposed the US' high-handedness and hypocrisy over cyber-security issues."

Zheng also stressed China's commitment to upholding cyber- security, vowed that its government and military have "never engaged or participated" in cyber theft of trade secrets, and described the US accusation against Chinese personnel as "purely ungrounded and with ulterior purpose", repeating remarks made by his ministry on the same night.

The ministry also said it would suspend activities in a joint cyber working group set up last June when US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their summit in California.

The group was to resolve cyber disputes in closed-door settings and on equal footing, in the spirit of establishing the new model of ties agreed to by the leaders then.

But the US move, its first prosecution of foreign state actors over cyber-espionage, has again unleashed accusations, with China on Monday night releasing new data of US cyber attack against Chinese interests.

The National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Centre of China said, for instance, that from March 19 to May 18, a total of 2,077 Trojan horse networks or botnet servers in the United States "directly controlled 1.18 million host computers in China".

Renmin University Sino-US expert Shi Yinhong said bilateral ties are "tense" now, with anger and concern rising on both sides.

China is angry that the US has abandoned a consensus of the two leaders not to air disputes openly and that the US is again making accusations despite "losing the moral high ground on cyber issues" after the Edward Snowden saga.

The National Security Agency contractor-turned-whistleblower has embarrassed the US since last year with exposes of how it had spied on top leaders of foreign countries like Germany.

Professor Shi said Beijing is also displeased with Obama over his support during his Asian tour last month for US allies like Japan and the Philippines in their territorial disputes with China.

"This latest accusation can be described as the straw that broke the camel's back," he said, explaining China's angry reaction.

Analysts said the new tensions cast doubts on the new model of ties that seeks to avoid conflicts between a rising power and an existing power through equal consultations and win-win outcomes.

China foreign affairs University assistant president Wang Fan believes both sides remain committed to the new relationship but need to find ways to prevent disputes from derailing their efforts.

"Both sides have to face challenges and need to discuss differences frankly. But this has to be done on equal footing and mutual respect for each other's core interests," he told The Straits Times.

But Shi is less optimistic: "It is increasingly clear that only China desires such a relationship and the US has not accepted it."


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