The Chinese authorities have hit back after the US charged five men it described as Chinese "military hackers" with attacking US corporations.
Yesterday, the US Justice Department said the alleged hacking was directed at six US organisations — including those in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries — and identified the culprits as five officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
A report by security company Mandiant last year linked the unit with a number of cyber-attacks, a claim denied by the Chinese authorities.
However, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang described yesterday's indictments as "based on deliberately fabricated facts" and said the move jeopardises China-US cooperation.
China said it has asked the US to "immediately correct its mistake" and withdraw the indictment. In response to the indictments, China said it has also decided to suspend the activities of the China-US Cyber Working Group.
The spokesman insisted the Chinese government, the Chinese military and their "relevant personnel" have "never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets" and described the accusation against the Chinese officers are "purely ungrounded".
He also claimed that instead the US government has long been involved in "large-scale and organised cyber theft as well as wiretapping and surveillance activities against foreign political leaders, companies and individuals, which constitute a violation of international laws and basic norms governing international relations".
"China is a victim of severe US cyber theft, wiretapping and surveillance activities," he said. "Large amounts of publicly-disclosed information show that relevant US institutions have been conducting cyber intrusion, wiretapping and surveillance activities against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities, and individuals."
While cyber-espionage has been a long-standing practice among government agencies, it is not usually something that is addressed publicly which is what makes the US indictments so unusual, even if a trial is very unlikely.
The cyber surveillance capabilities of the US have been well documented thanks to the Snowden leaks but the US would argue this is different to the economically-motivated hacking emanating from China, which it has complained about for some time.