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OPINION: US-China Cybertheft Accusations to Have No Real Consequences

© Fotolia / Feng YuOPINION: US-China Cybertheft Accusations to Have No Real Consequences
OPINION: US-China Cybertheft Accusations to Have No Real Consequences - Sputnik International
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The recent exchange of accusations of cyber espionage between China and the United States, with the latter threatening China with sanctions, is unlikely to have real consequences, Douglas Paal, Director of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.

MOSCOW, May 21 (RIA Novosti), Nastassia Astrasheuskaya – The recent exchange of accusations of cyber espionage between China and the United States, with the latter threatening China with sanctions, is unlikely to have real consequences, Douglas Paal, Director of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.

"I doubt there will be sanctions formally established, at least in the initial phase. But retaliation is very likely against American companies operating in China," Paal said.

China’s Defense Ministry accused Washington of "hypocrisy and double standards" on Tuesday after the US Department of Justice charged five officials from the Chinese military establishment with economic cyber espionage the day before.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said the US grand jury indictment was "made up" and would "damage Sino-American cooperation and mutual trust." Beijing called for "immediate rectification" as China is "a staunch defender of network security."

The US Justice Department on Monday charged five Chinese military officials with economic cyber espionage, accusing them of stealing trade secrets of six US companies in the fields of nuclear and solar power and metallurgy, including Alcoa and Westinghouse Electric. The announcement was the first case of the US pressing criminal charges against Chinese officials over hacking.

China pointed to the United States’ own spying activities, revealed in multiple documents published by WikiLeaks since 2006, as well as by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of classified documents to the press last year.

"Accusations on both sides are justified, but there is a necessary distinction. The US acknowledges all countries spy and will continue to do so. But the US law does not permit sharing the fruits of spying for commercial advantage with American or other firms. China says all countries spy, and claims not to spy commercially. The US has evidence to the contrary," Paal said.

The US government earlier stated that it would consider the possibility of trade sanctions against China if there is evidence that cyber-attacks on US companies and institutions are carried out with the official support of Beijing. Chinese authorities argue that the country regularly falls victim to hacker attacks itself, with some traces of these attacks pointing to the US.

In February 2013, American company Mandiant, specializing in cyber security, issued a report claiming the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had launched hacker attacks on American entities.

The Carnegie expert, however, said sanctions threats will remain just that – threats.

Although China holds a good chunk of US securities, it has other ways to make the US refrain from sanctions, he said.

"The US already has sanctions against China that resulted from the Tiananmen incident in 1989, but there would be inhibitions about additional sanctions based on many reasons, and the debt would be among the least of them. Holding US securities is something China does to promote its own economic well-being and stability, not as a favor to the US," he said.

Russia, which generally agrees with China on many international issues, prompting talks of the two nations being close allies, has also been at odds with the US, first over the spy exchange in 2010, then when hosting Snowden, and finally the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

Paal, however, denied the Chinese statement was linked to Russia this time, because it had too much to do with China itself.

"I suspect that China enjoys the US being beset by difficulties elsewhere and thus less focused on China. It also likes the diplomatic maneuvering room it can enjoy with Russian backing on third country issues, such as Iran, Syria, and others. But Moscow and Beijing are not allies, far from it."

China summoned the US ambassador on Tuesday and suspended its activities in the China-US joint Cyber Working Group, according to the Xinhua news agency.

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