The Trump administration ramped up its pressure campaign on Beijing on Thursday, as the Justice Department accused two Chinese nationals with ties to the country’s Ministry of State Security of infiltrating the biggest providers of internet services and boring into government computer systems, including a major Department of Energy laboratory.
The indictment of the two men came just months after the Justice Department lured one of the Chinese intelligence agency’s officers to Belgium, where he was arrested and extradited to the United States. Both cases focus on an intelligence effort based in Tianjin to advance Beijing’s economic and geopolitical interests with an extraordinarily broad attack on Western companies and governments.
Just as the indictment was unsealed, Britain identified the same intelligence operation, often named APT 10 by cybersecurity firms, as responsible for separate attacks in that country and beyond. The statement from Britain’s Foreign Office was part of a new, collective effort by Western allies to call out China’s attempts to obtain trade secrets and intellectual property through a state-coordinated cyberespionage campaign, according to people involved in the planning. Australia and New Zealand on Friday issued similar statements.
The allegations highlight the tension between the United States and China over what the White House says is a brazen effort by the Chinese to obtain Western technology and other proprietary information. The United States formally accused the Chinese of violating a 2015 agreement — brokered by President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping — to cease economic espionage, saying Chinese hackers have come roaring back after two years of comity.
The Justice Department action also comes amid other Trump administration pressure on the Chinese. The United States helped coordinate the arrest of a top executive of Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, on suspicion of committing fraud related to sanctions against Iran. Her arrest, while she was changing planes in Canada, has set off a geopolitical standoff, with China arresting three Canadians on its own soil.
Last week, American investigators said that a long-running hack of Starwood Hotels, now part of Marriott International, was a Chinese intelligence-gathering operation. And the United States has taken steps to block Chinese investment and student enrollments in the United States.
It is not clear how, if at all, the latest indictment will affect Mr. Trump’s effort to reach a trade agreement with Mr. Xi that would end an escalating tariff war between the world’s two largest economies. The United States has set a March 2 deadline to reach agreement with Beijing on a range of issues, including what the White House says is a pattern in which China has pressured American companies to hand over valuable technology and trade secrets as a condition of doing business there. [Continue reading…]