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US Preparing Sanctions Against China

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Obama take part in a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2014. The pending sanctions might cool relations when Mr. Xi makes his first state visit to the U.S. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
US Preparing Sanctions Against China
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The Washington Post reports that the United States is preparing to act against Chinese who steal trade secrets using the Internet.

The actions could freeze accounts and block the transfer of money. They would target thieves who use the Internet to steal U.S. trade secrets. The newspaper says the decision on whether to take action is expected in the next two weeks.

The decision could take place at the same time the Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives on his first state visit to Washington.

The actions are meant to send a message to China to express growing U.S. frustration.

China is not the only hacker of computers for trade secrets. But The Washington Post reports that it is the most active. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, says these incidents rose 53 percent last year. China accounted for most of that, the FBI says.

The Washington Post says it is unclear how many companies or individuals will be targeted. One unnamed official says actions would be taken against large and multinational Chinese companies.

The actions were prompted partly by Chinese hacking into the personal information files of U.S. government workers last year, the newspaper says.

Also, in May 2014, the U.S. charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into the files of U.S. companies. Investigators said the Chinese military officers hacked into nuclear, metal and solar companies in the U.S.

In 2013, the Chinese government was accused of taking part in cyber-attacks against American businesses and government.

China has denied these accusations. It insists it has been the victim of cyber-attacks. In 2013, a former U.S. security worker, Edward Snowden, revealed that the U.S. was watching China in a secret program. The U.S. says this is separate and did not steal secrets.

The U.S. launched sanctions for the first time this April. It financially punished hackers and cyber-attackers who come from outside the U.S.

The sanctions, however, are not a declaration of cyber war on China says Ankit Panda. He is editor of The Diplomat.

"I think this is an attempt to moderate China’s behavior, to impose costs, to show China there will be costs for individuals and companies that are seen to be engaging in cyber-espionage and cyber-theft. Washington has charged the Chinese military of facilitating theft of U.S. intellectual property for the advantage of Chinese firms. And I think it’s trying to state here -- with this move of economic sanctions -- that this behavior will not be tolerated."

If the U.S. can prove that China gained competitive power from stealing U.S. trade secrets, then sanctions are necessary, says Greg Austin. He is a China expert at the Australian Center for Cyber-Security.

"It’s quite one thing to be able to prove where a company has clearly copied or stolen a design of a Gucci handbag, but it’s quite a different thing to prove conclusively that a company has stolen trade secrets simply by cyber-espionage.”

Mr. Austin says Chinese intelligence and global actors are getting a huge amount of information online from U.S. commercial interests. But, he says, their ability to use that information for competitive gain quickly is in question.

He says the Obama administration will need to find a balance between targeting Chinese companies and not damaging relations with the Chinese government over accusations of commercial espionage.

I’m Anna Matteo.

VOA’s Victor Beattie prepared this report. Kathleen Struck adapted his report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

frustration n. a feeling of anger or annoyance caused by not being able to do something

hacker n. a person who secretly gains access to a computer system to get information or cause damage

prompt v. to be the cause of something

sanctions n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade

cyber prefix computer

espionage n. spying