Chinese authorities Wednesday continued to denounce accusations from a US cyber security firm that the nation's military was behind a series of cyber attacks targeting US companies, and noted that China itself is a major victim for cyber attacks, most of which originate in the US.
Meanwhile, analysts warn that China should keep an eye on the US cyber security strategy and strive for a greater voice in formulating international rules for cyber security.
"The Chinese military has never backed any hacking actions," Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said at a news briefing, noting that the cyber espionage allegation claimed by US firm Mandiant is "groundless" both in facts and legal basis.
In a report released Monday, Mandiant pointed its fingers at a Chinese military unit named People's Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398, saying the Shanghai-based outfit had systematically stolen confidential data from at least 141 organizations across 20 industries.
The report has driven media to Datong Road in Shanghai where the military unit is located, but pictures and videos taken by the press were required to be deleted by officers in military uniform.
The name plate indicating the nearby clinic of PLA Unit 61398 was removed Wednesday.
Extensive discussions have been stirred up among US media since these allegations.
The AP reported Tuesday that the US government may impose fines and trade actions against China or any other country "guilty of cyber espionage." It cited officials close to the plans as saying that the White House will lay out a report Wednesday that suggests "more aggressive steps" to be taken in response to cyber thefts attributed to the Chinese government.
"China and the US stay in communication concerning relevant issues," Hong Lei, spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said Wednesday.
Geng also said that statistics show that Chinese military end users connected to the Internet frequently come under cyber attack from abroad.
In these cases, source IP addresses suggest that the majority of them come from the US, Geng said. He added "but we do not point fingers at the US based on the aforementioned findings, and every country should deal with cyber security in a professional and responsible manner."
Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the US government may take specific punitive measures, such as issuing a visa ban on Chinese military personnel, which would be a "political stance" and exert limited impact on the two countries' general relationship.
Additionally, Congress may push forward trade sanctions if US industries believe the threat from cyber attacks is expanding, Shen said, but adding that the possible sanctions would still not be "devastating."
Da Wei, an American studies expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, echoed Shen, saying that compared with potential retaliatory measures, China should be more cautious of changes in the US' cyber security strategy.
The US has reportedly been mulling preemptive cyber strikes.
The Mandiant report has also stirred up controversy regarding its real purpose. The AP pointed out on Wednesday that the firm has an "obvious commercial interest in releasing the information," noting that Obama just signed an executive order aimed at improving government cooperation with industry.
Meanwhile, the background of Mandiant's founder Kevin Mandia, a retired US Air Force officer who used to work as a computer security officer at the Pentagon, also raised doubts over the motives of the revelation.
This is not the first time the US has labeled China a significant threat to its cyber security. Earlier this month, several US media claimed they were the victims of Chinese cyber attacks. A Chinese college teacher has also been named as a veteran hacker by the US media.
"The US is raising the profile of the 'invisible' cyber threat as a new weapon in order to balance its losses in the Asia-Pacific pivot strategy," said Han Xudong, a professor with the PLA National Defense University. "The US controls the world's main servers. This has been a threat to China's cyber security."
Earlier, the People's Daily said that allegations from the US are an excuse for Washington to expand its cyber security forces and levy more technology restrictions on China as a containing measure.
Geng said China has established bilateral law enforcement cooperation with over 30 nations and regions, including the US, Germany and Russia.
"China should strive for a greater say in laying out international rules on cyber security," Da told the Global Times on Wednesday, suggesting that in response to continuous accusations, China, also a big victim of cyber attacks, can "fight" back with concrete evidence.
Xinhua contributed to this story