China's foreign ministry Monday protested the US indictment of five members of the Chinese military for alleged cyber theft of US trade secrets, and suspended exchanges via a China-US working group on cyber issues.
"This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military," US Attorney General Eric Holder said as he unveiled charges by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, reported AFP.
The hackers targeted US companies in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries to steal information useful to competitors in China, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Monday.
The companies targeted include Alcoa Inc, United States Steel Corp, Allegheny Technologies Inc, Westinghouse Electric Co and US subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, US officials said.
The hackers also targeted United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW), officials said.
Reuters said such charges are symbolic but the move would prevent the individuals indicted from traveling to the US or other countries that have an extradition agreement with Washington.
Since early last year, the US has repeatedly made accusations over Chinese cyber espionage, which China denies.
Qin Gang, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, said in a statement late Monday that the US accusation was "made up" and would "damage Sino-US cooperation and mutual trust."
"The Chinese government's stance on the issue of Internet security is consistent and clear," said the statement, which urged "immediate rectification."
"China is a staunch defender of network security, and the Chinese government, military and associated personnel have never engaged in online theft of trade secrets," it said.
The foreign ministry also said China will suspend activities of a joint working group on cyber issues.
Discussion on cyber security was held under the framework of the China-US Strategic Security Dialogue for the first time in July 2013.
Qin An, director of the China Institute of Cyberspace Strategy, told the Global Times that the indictment against Chinese individuals is another effort by Washington to hype up the issue.
"In fact, the US has the most extensive network for eavesdropping and intelligence snooping worldwide. Cyber espionage is the main approach they use. Instead of reflecting its own deeds, the US has pointed fingers at others," Qin An said.
He also raised doubts whether the high-profile indictment is in "revenge" against China's recent crackdown on information leaks to foreign intelligence agencies.
Reuters contributed to this story