BEIJING (AP) — Top American officials said Thursday they challenged their counterparts in China to rein in alleged cybersecurity infringements as a new allegation emerged of a brazen attempt by Chinese hackers to break into U.S. government personnel files.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the two powers had a frank exchange on the issue during this week's "Strategic and Economic Dialogue" in Beijing. However, Kerry said he and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew only were notified of the latest accusation of wrongdoing after the gathering's conclusion.
"We did not raise it in specific terms. We raised the subject, obviously," Kerry told reporters. He said the alleged incident referred only to an "attempted intrusion" still being investigated but said no sensitive material appears to have been compromised.
The New York Times reported that the hackers, who aren't believed to be government actors, sought information on people who were candidates for higher security clearances.
The issue of cybersecurity was already among one of the most sensitive at this year's dialogue after the United States unsealed indictments against five senior Chinese military officials in May. They are accused of stealing trade secrets from the computers of American companies and passing them on to Chinese competitors.
In retaliation for the action, China suspended a working group on cyber-related matters. China has demanded the withdrawal of the charges, and foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi said Thursday the U.S. must first create the proper conditions for dialogue for the working group to be renewed.
Earlier, Kerry said the loss of intellectual property through hacking has had a "chilling effect on innovation and investment," and said such activity is hurting U.S. companies.
Yang described cybersecurity as a "common threat facing all countries." But, speaking through an interpreter, he suggested the issue was being abused: "Cyberspace should not become a tool for damaging the interests of other countries," he said.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also addressed the question of cybercrime, but highlighted some progress. He said China committed to vigorously prosecuting trade secret theft cases.
Lew also stressed Chinese pledges to reduce intervention in its currency "as conditions permit."