The United States has indicted five Chinese military officials on cyber-espionage charges. The individuals are accused of hacking into six US companies and stealing trade secrets, the Justice Department said.
A US grand jury on Monday filed charges against the five Chinese military personnel alleging they stole secrets from companies in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries in order to benefit Chinese state-owned companies. The charges say the China-based alleged hackers broke into US computers to gain a competitive advantage and damage companies.
China, however, has called the charges "made up" and said they would harm trust between Beijing and Washington.
The alleged victims of the cyber attacks are Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Company., Allegheny Technologies, US Steel Corporation, United Steelworkers Union, and SolarWorld, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Holder described the charges as the first of their kind against state actors, saying they should serve as a "wake-up call."
"This administration will not tolerate actions by any nation that seeks to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market," Holder told reporters.
"This indictment makes clear that state actors who engage in economic espionage, even over the Internet from faraway offices in Shanghai, will be exposed for their criminal conduct and sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law," he added.
US officials in the past have accused the Chinese military and China-based hackers of targeting American industrial and military targets for cyber attacks, saying they steal trade secrets or international property.
China says it is the victim of similar attacks from the US. The country's military is believed to be among the main targets for the US National Security Agency and US Cyber Command. News reports based on documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the US for years spied on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
The US has also been accused of conducting economic espionage abroad, including spying on Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.
China rejects allegations
The country's Foreign Ministry on Monday criticized the US indictment, saying it would "damage Sino-American cooperation and mutual trust."
"The Chinese government's stance on the issue of Internet security is consistent and clear," said a statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, which urged "immediate rectification."
"China is a staunch defender of network security, and the Chinese government military and associated personnel haven ever engaged in online theft of trade secrets," the statement added.
dr/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)