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The Justice Department is prepared to charge hackers who allegedly targeted U.S. technology service providers under the direction of Beijing, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The sources told the Journal that criminal charges could land as soon as next week. The newspaper reported that the goal was to gain access to the providers' networks and steal intellectual property from American companies and agencies.
The Journal reported that the targeted companies provided a broad range of services including technology infrastructure management and cloud storage. It did not specify how many hackers are expected to be charged or how many companies were targeted in this scheme.
The report comes amid strained trade tensions between the U.S. and China. On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a trade cease-fire, pledging to not levy new tariffs as the two countries negotiate. Yet, just days after that agreement, Trump threatened more duties if talks fell through, calling himself "a Tariff Man. "
Intellectual property theft has been a chief concern for U.S. companies with operations in China. In the White House statement about the Saturday meeting, the Trump administration said negotiations will include discussions about "structural changes" on a number of issues including intellectual property protection and cyber theft.
On the same day as the Trump-Xi meeting, Canadian authorities arrested the chief financial officer of China's Huawei, one of the world's largest makers of telecommunications equipment. Canada said it detained Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities. Meng is facing extradition to the U.S. amid allegations of violating sanctions on Iran.
The U.S. has also previously warned consumers about buying Huawei phones amid concerns about their potential to be used for espionage.