China has offered to talk to the US about cybersecurity, amid an escalating war of words over computer hacking, with suspicions as deep in Beijing as in Washington about the accusations.
The move comes after the Obama administration demanded that China take steps to stop the widespread hacking of US government and corporate computer networks and that it engage in a dialogue to set standards for security in cyberspace.
Yesterday, national intelligence director James Clapper told Congress in an annual assessment of global threats that the US faced a growing threat of a crippling cyberattack. The dangers from digital assaults on power grids and other infrastructure while cyberespionage threatened to undercut the US military's technological edge.
Until now, the White House has steered clear of mentioning China by name when discussing cybercrime, prompted in part by qualms about escalating a dispute with Beijing while it is in the midst of a leadership transition.
In his State of the Union address, Obama said: "We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets."
A US computer security company said last month that a secretive PLA military unit was likely behind a series of hacking attacks mostly targeting the US.
In response to the US concerns, Beijing said yesterday it was happy to talk. "China is willing, on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and mutual trust, to have constructive dialogue and co-operation on this issue with the international community including the United States to maintain the security, openness and peace of the internet," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chuying told a news briefing.
"Internet security is a global issue. In fact, China is a marginalised group in this regard, and one of the biggest victims of hacking attacks," she said.
Two major Chinese military websites, including that of the Defence Ministry, were subject to more than 140,000 hacking attacks a month last year, almost two-thirds from the US, the ministry said last month.
Senior People's Liberation Army officers yesterday repeated government denials of having anything to do with hacking.
Wang Hongguang, deputy commander of the PLA's Nanjing Military Region, called the US "a thief calling others a thief".
Asked if China would develop its own offensive hacking capabilities, Wang said: "If the enemy has it, we'll want to have it too."
Reuters, The New York Times