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China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday it is resolutely opposed to accusations from the United States and other allies criticizing China for economic espionage, urging Washington to withdraw its accusations.
The United States should also withdraw charges against two Chinese citizens, the ministry said, adding that China had never participated in or supported any stealing of commercial secrets and had lodged "stern representations" with Washington.
"We urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its erroneous actions and cease its slanderous smears relating to internet security," it said, adding that it would take necessary measures to safeguard its own cybersecurity and interests.
It has long been an "open secret" that U.S. government agencies have hacked into and listening in on foreign governments, companies and individuals, the ministry added.
"The U.S. side making unwarranted criticisms of China in the name of so-called 'cyber stealing' is blaming others while oneself is to be blamed, and is self-deception. China absolutely cannot accept this."
U.S. prosecutors indicted two Chinese nationals linked to China's Ministry of State Security intelligence agency on charges of stealing confidential data from American government agencies and businesses around the world.
Prosecutors charged Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong in hacking attacks against the U.S. Navy, the space agency NASA and the Energy Department and dozens of companies. The operation targeted intellectual property and corporate secrets to give Chinese companies an unfair competitive advantage, they said.
The pair were members of a hacking group known within the cyber security community as APT 10 and also worked for a Tianjin company Huaying Haitai Science and Technology Development, prosecutors said.
Reuters was unable to locate immediately contact details for Zhu or Zhang.
Britain, Australia and New Zealand joined the United States in slamming China over what they called a global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft, signalling growing global coordination against the practice.
China's Foreign Ministry said Britain and other countries had also made "slanderous comments" stemming from "ulterior motives".
Five sources familiar with the attacks told Reuters the hackers breached the networks of Hewlett Packard Enterprise
and IBM, then used the access to hack into their clients' computers. IBM said it had no evidence that sensitive data had been compromised. HPE said it could not comment.
"No country poses a broader, more severe long-term threat to our nation's economy and cyber infrastructure than China," FBI Director Chris Wray said at a news conference. "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."
China-U.S. ties in recent months have also been affected by a protracted trade war, though there is currently a truce as both countries try and work out a resolution.
Adding to the tensions, on Thursday China denounced a new U.S. law related to Tibet.
The official China Daily wrote in an editorial on Friday that this added "additional flashpoint" to already rocky relations.
"With Washington favouring a confrontational approach aimed at maintaining its hegemony rather than a cooperative one for the common good, Beijing will have to be prepared to stand its ground and respond as necessary to safeguard its core interests."