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Beijing has denounced the US charges against five Chinese army officers accused of economic cyber-espionage.

China says the US is also guilty of spying on other countries, including China, and accuses the US of hypocrisy and “double standards”.

US ambassador in Beijing has been summoned over the incident. China says relations will be damaged.

US prosecutors say the Chinese officers stole trade secrets and internal documents from five companies and a labor union.

China’s defense ministry put out a strongly-worded statement on its website on Tuesday saying that China’s government and its military “had never engaged in any cyber espionage activities”.

It also took aim at the US, saying: “For a long time, the US has possessed the technology and essential infrastructure needed to conduct large-scale systematic cyber thefts and surveillance on foreign government leaders, businesses and individuals. This is a fact which the whole world knows.

“The US’ deceitful nature and its practice of double standards when it comes to cyber security have long been exposed, from the WikiLeaks incident to the Edward Snowden affair.”

Beijing has denounced the US charges against five Chinese army officers accused of economic cyber-espionage

Beijing has denounced the US charges against five Chinese army officers accused of economic cyber-espionage (photo FBI)

The defense ministry added that China’s military had been the target of many online attacks, and “a fair number” of those had been launched from American IP addresses.

It said the arrest of the five Chinese army officers had “severely damaged mutual trust”.

According to a Xinhua report on Tuesday, between March and May this year, a total of 1.18 million computers in China were directly controlled by 2,077 machines in the US via Trojan horse or zombie malware.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang lodged a “solemn representation” with US ambassador Max Baucus on Monday night, Xinhua reported.

On Monday US Attorney General Eric Holder said a grand jury had laid hacking charges against the Chinese nationals, the first against “known state actors for infiltrating US commercial targets by cyber means”.

Eric Holder identified the alleged victims as Westinghouse Electric, US Steel, Alcoa Inc, Allegheny Technologies, SolarWorld and the US Steelworkers Union.

“The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the United States,” he said.

In the indictment brought in the western district of Pennsylvania – the heart of the US steel industry – the US named Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui, all officers in Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), as the alleged conspirators.

FBI officials said the hacking – between 2006 and 2014 – caused “significant losses” at the companies and that there were likely to be many more victims.

Last year, cyber-defense company Mandiant published a report on a Chinese military unit the firm said was behind the vast majority of significant attacks on American federal agencies and companies.

In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon planned to more than triple its cyber-security capabilities in the next few years to defend against such internet attacks.

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The White House is expected to announce a raft of anti-hacking measures a day after a report linked China’s military to prolific cyber-theft.

Possible actions include fines or other trade enforcements against China or any other country found guilty of hacking.

The US says it has repeatedly raised concerns with China about cyber-attacks and stolen trade data.

China’s military says the report by a US-based security company is flawed, lacking “technical proof”.

Executives from GE and American Superconductor, both of which do business in China, are expected to attend as the White House rolls out its strategy.

The announcement at 15:00 EST will be attended by US Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The strategy that we are releasing today co-ordinates and improves US government efforts to protect the innovation that drives the American economy and supports jobs in the United States,” a White House official said.

“This strategy is not focused on any one country, nor is it focused on cyber-security exclusively, though cyber does play an important role in the strategy.”

Tuesday’s detailed report by Mandiant identified a Shanghai high-rise used by China’s military as the probable home of hackers to whom it attributed multiple attacks on US companies.

The group, labelled in the report as APT1, was staffed by hundreds of proficient English speakers, Mandiant said.

APT1 had hacked into 141 companies across 20 industries, stealing hundreds of terabytes of information including blueprints, business plans, pricing documents, user credentials, emails and contact lists.

The White House is expected to announce a raft of anti-hacking measures a day after a report linked China's military to prolific cyber-theft

The White House is expected to announce a raft of anti-hacking measures a day after a report linked China’s military to prolific cyber-theft

China’s government has long been suspected of a role in cyber-hacking.

But the issue has become more high-profile in recent months following widely reported hacks into media outlets including the New York Times.

That incident followed the newspaper’s report on the wealth of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao’s relatives.

On Tuesday, state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the issue had come up “in virtually every meeting we have with Chinese officials”.

Estimated losses from cyber-espionage and theft of trade secrets totalled more than $300 billion in 2012, according to Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

The Mandiant report argued that it was “highly unlikely that the Chinese government is unaware of an attack group that operates from the Pudong New Area of Shanghai”, citing the country’s rigorous monitoring of internet use.

But China has flatly denied any connection with the activity outlined in Mandiant’s report.

A Chinese ministry statement, posted on its website, said that many hacking attacks were carried out using hijacked IP addresses.

It also suggested that the “everyday gathering” of online information was being wrongly characterized as spying.

And on Wednesday, Chinese foreign minister Hong Lei said China itself had been the victim of attacks, citing a 2012 report from the country’s Ministry of Information Technology and Industry.

“Among the above attacks, those from the US numbered the most,” he said at a news conference.

Cyber-security experts told the Associated Press that US intelligence agencies routinely spy on other countries, but do not conduct similar attacks or steal data from Chinese companies.

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