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US, 12+ world leaders slam China for economic spying

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo addresses the media and takes questions following the UN Security Council meeting on Iran. at the United Nations, in New York City on December 12, 2018. (State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/Released)
December 20, 2018

The U.S. and at least a dozen of its allies around the world are slated to speak out Thursday on China’s rampant economic espionage.

In an “unprecedented mass condemnation,” global leaders will speak out in an effort to bring accountability to China’s widespread theft of technology and trade secrets, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Leaders from Britain, Australia, Canada, Japan and Germany are expected to speak out. Sanctions are also expected to be announced against China.

“This appears to be significant and underscores the degree of concern about Chinese economic espionage across a number of countries,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Multilateral efforts have better prospects for producing results than unilateral moves.”

The concerns follow the latest evidence of massive hacking campaigns carried out by Chinese nationals on behalf of the Chinese government.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced charges against Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, who engaged in a hacking operation spanning more than a decade, stealing sensitive data from both government and private entities, according to a Justice Department statement.

Zhu and Zhang collaborated with hacking group “Advanced Persistent Threat 10” (APT10), for various intrusion operations, including two major campaigns in 2006 and 2014.

In one campaign, they hacked their way into the computer systems at 45 different government agencies and tech companies in 12 U.S. states to steal “hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data.”

In the other campaign, they launched a worldwide hack of governments and companies in 12 countries to steal intellectual property and other sensitive business data. Victims of the hack included a global banking institution, as well as various other targets in the banking and finance industries.

National Security Council spokesman and Special Assistant to the President, Garett Marquis, said the APT10 hack violates the 2015 Cyber Agreement made between the U.S. and China.

“The United States will hold China accountable for this state-sponsored cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property. This behavior is irresponsible, and we expect more from a country that aspires to be a global leader,” Marquis said in a tweet.

“China’s state-sponsored APT10 hack is a violation of the 2015 Cyber Commitments, and an affront to all countries that value secure trade and fair competition. The United States stands with a large coalition of allies and partners in calling out this shameful behavior,” he added.

According to a White House statement released after the agreement, “The United States and China agree that neither country’s government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors.”

Despite the agreement, growing evidence has shown that rampant Chinese government-affiliated hacking efforts have been waged for years before and after the agreement, securing sensitive data in industries like banking, technology, aerospace, and more.

Cybersecurity company Area 1 announced a recent discovery of China’s efforts, which involved the infiltration of communication systems belonging to the European Union, the New York Times reported. The intrusion went on for years, allowing Chinese hackers to acquire thousands of sensitive messages between diplomats.

Some experts believe the mass condemnation from world leaders will be fruitless in changing China’s behaviors.

“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,” said Derek Scissors, a China analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “International denouncements may irritate Xi, but they place no real pressure on him.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen released a joint statement on Thursday saying, “These actions by Chinese actors to target intellectual property and sensitive business information present a very real threat to the economic competitiveness of companies in the United States and around the globe.”

“We will continue to hold malicious actors accountable for their behavior, and today the United States is taking several actions to demonstrate our resolve. We strongly urge China to abide by its commitment to act responsibly in cyberspace and reiterate that the United States will take appropriate measures to defend our interests,” the statement added.