The United States and a score of other western allies joined together Thursday to blame China for a more than decade-long effort to gobble up trade secrets and technology from a dozen countries.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin blocked a proposal to impose sanctions on Chinese agents implicated in hackings, The Washington Post reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. Mnuchin blocked the measure out of fear it would interfere with U.S.-China trade talks.
Thursday’s accusations came as the Department of Justice unveiled indictments against two Chinese hackers, who it said acted “in association with” the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS). Two members of a hacking squad known as “Advanced Persistent Threat 10” were accused of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and wire fraud, the indictment said.
They allegedly presided over a Chinese-government-backed campaign of cyber theft targeting advanced technologies with commercial and military applications. Hackers also went after companies widely considered gatekeepers to computer networks serving scores of corporate clients.
Government officials believe the hackers were acting on behalf of China as the communist nation works to supplant the U.S. as a global power.
“China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower, and they’re using illegal methods to get there,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters.
More than 90 percent of cases alleging economic espionage involved China as did more than two-thirds of trade secret theft prosecutions, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Most of China’s actions came over the past seven years — and there is some evidence some of U.S.’ biggest allies are taking the hackings seriously.
“This demonstrates there’s a strong well of international support the United States can tap … Countries are fed up,” Ely Ratner, executive vice president of the Center for a New American Security, told reporters.
Officials from London, Canberra, Ottawa and Wellington knocked China for violating previously pledges to avoid hacking for commercial gain.
Some analysts are skeptical the indictments and alliance will have any effect.
“Just as when the Obama administration did it, indicting a handful of Chinese agents out of the tens of thousands involved in economic espionage is necessary but not important,” Derek Scissors, a China analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, told reporters.
The U.S.’ move comes amid President Donald Trump’s tariff war against China. The president reached a major agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a Dec. 2 meeting ahead of a G-20 summit. The meeting temporarily staved off an escalating trade battle between the world’s two biggest economies. (RELATED: No New Tariffs: Trump Wins Trade Battle With China)
There’s also fear China is using American automakers and Silicon Valley companies to expand its tech dominance. Tesla and General Motors are among 200 companies transmitting position information and other data to government-backed monitoring centers in China. The information is regularly cobbled and delivered without citizens’ knowledge.
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