China has labelled the United States the “world’s top hacking empire” after a Danish broadcaster alleged that American intelligence agents used Denmark’s underwater cables to spy on top European officials. According to Denmark’s public broadcaster the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, also known as DR, the US National Security Agency (NSA) used a partnership with the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS) to eavesdrop on Danish information cables from 2012 to 2014. DR said the US had spied on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany, including the former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbruck. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was also among those allegedly targeted, and French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that they expected an explanation from the US and Danish governments. “As facts have proven time and again, the US is the world’s top empire of hacking and theft of secrets,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing on Monday. He said that, with the targets having included not only competitors but allies, the US was the master of large-scale, indiscriminate tapping. Wang said that the US was using the Clean Network – a US-led global digital alliance that excludes technology that in Washington’s assessment can be manipulated by China’s Communist Party – as a cover, and was claiming to safeguard cybersecurity while doing nothing of the sort. “This fully exposes that the US is not truly upholding cybersecurity but suppressing competitors,” Wang said. “It’s not truly defending the security of allies, but is maintaining its own hegemony. “The US owes the world an explanation on whether what it does is consistent with its intelligence laws and the spirit of its transborder data-flow agreement with allies, and whether it’s a polluted network or a clean network.” Wang said China hoped that the international community would “reject US cyber bullying and not be a cat’s paw for the illegal acts of this empire of hackers”. Neither the DDIS nor the NSA has yet commented on the reports. Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen told Reuters that “systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable”. According to DR, the DDIS launched an internal investigation following concerns about former NSA employee Edward Snowden ’s leaks in 2013, which revealed how the NSA worked. Following the DR report, Snowden tweeted that US President Joe Biden , who was vice-president at the time that the alleged spying took place, “was deeply involved in this scandal the first time around” and was “well prepared to answer for this when he soon visits Europe”. “There should be an explicit requirement for full public disclosure not only from Denmark but [from] their senior partner as well,” Snowden said.