The new Chinese leadership under president Xi Jinping should cease cyberattacks and cyberespionage against U.S. targets, or risk damaging bilateral ties, U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf has warned.
"Friends don't spy on one another, and most of the major companies in America have been hit with cyberattacks," Wolf said in an interview with RFA's Mandarin Service, adding that computers in the Pentagon and his own office had suffered attacks linked to China.
"China had better stop," Wolf said. "And if they don't, there's going to be a lot of action by our government."
"If they want a good relationship, they'd better stop stealing," he said.
He said concerns were growing in the U.S. over the "very, very aggressive" attacks and espionage which have been linked to computers in China and to a military-backed research institute in Shanghai.
In February, the U.S.-based security firm Mandiant said the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was behind a series of hacker attacks on U.S. corporate networks described in a 74-page report on the issue.
Mandiant said it had traced a large number of transnational cyberattacks to IP addresses assigned to a building it said was the home of the PLA's cyberespionage "Unit 61398," which it said had stolen data, including intellectual property, from at least 141 companies since 2006.
Beijing's defense ministry has denied the claims, saying that the report lacks technical proof, and that IP addresses can easily be usurped by hackers.
Also in February, the New York Times newspaper accused hackers traced to China of "persistently" infiltrating its computer networks over the last four months, also sparking an angry denial from Beijing.
The Great Firewall
Wolf also hit out at continuing Internet censorship imposed by Beijing on its netizens.
"When I talk to a lot of young Chinese students, they want the Internet, they want the Web, they want openness," he said. "You can only block that [for so long]."
"China is a great nation, but they've got to act that way," he said.
"Eventually if the Chinese government doesn't respond [on censorship and human rights], we're going to see the Chinese government fall," Wolf said.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied any involvement in hacking activities, saying it is opposed to them, and has also leveled counteraccusations against U.S.-based hackers.
As the U.S. government begins imposing trade penalties and other restrictions on China and its top technology firms, bilateral tensions have been steadily growing, commentators said.
"The consensus in Washington is that China has become a hub for cyberhackers, who have targeted top U.S. businesses for trade secrets and other corporate or political intelligence," wrote commentator Tony Romm on the Politico.com website.
Romm cited a "little-noticed provision" in a recent government funding bill, which could make it harder for Chinese companies to sell tech products to certain federal agencies, adding that it could pave the way for broader measures to come.
In March, top White House security aide Tom Donilon called on Beijing in a speech to the Asia Society to investigate the cyberattacks, and to put a stop to them.
The issue has also been raised in a phone call between President Barack Obama and President Xi, as well as on lower-level diplomatic visits such as that by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
But, according to Romm, both White House officials and Congress must balance growing security concerns with the need to preserve good relations and bilateral trade.
Reported by Jill Ku for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.