Photo courtesy of VOA News
Photo courtesy of VOA News

A senior White House official is calling on China to take “serious steps” to stop cybercrimes, saying the issue is a “growing challenge” to U.S.-China relations.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon on Monday called on China to acknowledge the scope of the problem and engage in talks with the U.S. on acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Tuesday that Beijing was open to talks, but insisted that China is a victim, not perpetrator of computer crimes. “What the Internet needs is not war, but rules and cooperation. China is willing, on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and mutual trust, to have constructive dialogue and cooperation on this issue with the international community, including the United States, to maintain the security, openness and peace of the Internet,” he stated.

Several large U.S. technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, and Twitter, were hacked earlier this year. The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and Washington Postnewspapers also say they were attacked by China-based hackers.

Last month, U.S. Internet security group Mandiant accused the Chinese military of stealing large amounts of data from about 150 U.S. companies and organizations.

China’s defense ministry denied the charge, saying Mandiant’s report lacked proof. It also returned the accusation, saying several Chinese military websites have been attacked by U.S.-based hackers.

U.S. officials have increasingly criticized China-based computer hacking attempts. But they have been less pointed in making direct accusations against the Beijing government, instead hoping to use talks to solve the problem.

Duncan Clark, chairman of technology consultancy BDA, tells VOA  that cautiously raising the issue with Beijing could bring good results.

“I think letting them know that we know [about the hacking] is probably not a bad strategy. But interestingly, this [Mandiant report] wasn’t something that came directly form the U.S. government. There has been debate about whether to do this, but it was helpful that this report came from a private sector player, in the sense that there’s still some room for maneuvering there,” said Clark.

In a speech Monday to the Asia Society in New York, Donilon said Chinese hacking attempts represent not only a national security concern, but also an economic one. He said U.S. businesses are increasingly concerned about “sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information.”

The U.S. last month unveiled a new strategy to counter hackers and cyber spies, including the use of fines and trade actions against those targeting trade secrets.

Some U.S. lawmakers estimate that American companies lost more than $300 billion last year to trade secret theft, much of it to due to hacking by Chinese cyber spies.

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