Chinese hacking: US calls out '21st Century burglary'

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) press materials are displayed on a table of the Justice Department in Washington, 19 May 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption No-one expects the five officers to see their day in US court

"Enough is enough," said Attorney General Eric Holder.

The US government is baring its teeth, showing a new aggression towards Chinese hackers and what the authorities here call "21st Century burglary".

Reading between the lines, it seems the Chinese government protests their innocence when President Barack Obama or others raise the subject, and then ask, "Where's the evidence?"

Now the US authorities are saying, here it is, in black and white.

Among the accusations: theft of plans for a nuclear power station in 2010, theft of financial information from a firm that makes solar panels, and malware installed on US Steel's computers, both also in 2010.

And the US claims the activities of the Chinese military officers directly hurt Americans and the US economy. One official said that the unfair competition led to plants being padlocked and people losing their jobs.

No-one thinks these officers, presumably acting on the instructions of their government, will end up on trial in a US court. The long arm of the law doesn't reach to Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the People's Liberation Army in Shanghai.

The relationship between the US and China is a curious one, balanced between something not quite like friendship and a more familiar sense of competition. It is now edging into animosity.

Each area - from a potential conflict in the Pacific to economic competition - is different.

But this is intended to be a stark message to the Chinese government that there will be no more diplomatic niceties, no pussyfooting around, when it comes to industrial espionage.

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