The Chinese government has quietly arrested a handful of hackers at the urging of the U.S. government — an unprecedented step to defuse tensions with Washington at a time when the Obama administration has threatened economic sanctions.
The action came a week or two before President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Washington late last month. The hackers had been identified by U.S. officials as having stolen commercial secrets from U.S. firms to be sold or passed along to Chinese state-run companies.
The arrests come amid signs of a potential change in the power balance between the U.S. and Chinese governments on commercial cyberespionage, one of the most fraught issues between the two countries. For years, U.S. firms and officials have said Beijing hasn’t done enough to crack down on digital larceny. Experts estimate that Chinese industrial hacking costs U.S. firms tens of billions of dollars annually.
In recent weeks, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies drew up a list of the hackers the United States wanted arrested.
“We need to know that you’re serious,” was the way one individual familiar with the matter described the message. “So we gave them a list, and we said, ‘Look, here’s these guys. Round them up.’”
Now, administration officials are watching to see if China will follow through with prosecutions. A public trial is important not only because that would be consistent with established principles of criminal justice, but because it could discourage other would-be hackers and show that the arrests were not an empty gesture.
Administration officials say they are not sure whether the arrests mark a deeper shift in China’s stance — or whether they were a short-term move to avoid getting hit by sanctions.
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SOURCE: Ellen Nakashima and Adam Goldman
The Washington Post