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Cyber hacking: US plans sanctions against China

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The US is planning to impose “a package of unprecedented sanctions” on Chinese individuals and organisations involved in cyber-economic espionage and series of attacks on American networks to steal sensitive business and trade secrets, a media report said here today.

“The Obama administration is developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals who have benefited from their government’s cybertheft of valuable US trade secrets,” The Washington Post reported.

The report, however, said the administration is yet to decide on the timing of the sanctions. But decision on this could be taken in two weeks or so, it said.

The proposed action would come at a particularly sensitive time for the two biggest economies, especially since it could hit Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit here.

Xi is scheduled to arrive in the the US next month. He would hold talks with President Barack Obama at the White House, during which US plans to raise several issues: cyber hacking, defence, Asia- Pacific, currency manipulation and human rights.

“The possibility of sanctions so close to Xi’s visit indicates how frustrated US officials have become over the persistent cyber plundering,” the report said.

The White House did not respond to any China-specific query, but a senior administration official, in general, said, as the US president said when signing the executive order enabling the use of economic sanctions against malicious cyber actors, the administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront such actors.

“That strategy includes diplomatic engagement, trade policy tools, law enforcement mechanisms, and imposing sanctions on individuals or entities that engage in certain significant, malicious cyber-enabled activities,” the official said.

“The administration has taken and continues to introduce steps to protect our networks and our citizens in cyberspace, and we are assessing all of our options to respond to these threats in a manner and timeframe of our choosing,” said the official.

According to the report, the expected sanctions move will send two signals.

“It sends a signal to Beijing that the administration is going to start fighting back on economic espionage, and it sends a signal to the private sector that we’re on your team. It tells China, enough is enough,” a second administration official was quoted as saying.

Based on feedback from experts, the report said the sanctions might invite retaliation from China.

Another senior administration official told the paper that sanction alone was not enough.

“Done in tandem with other diplomatic pressure, law enforcement, military, intelligence, then you can actually start to impose costs and indicate that there are costs to the bilateral relationship,” the first official said.