West’s claims of China, Russia cyberattacks a smear campaign: experts
Published: Jul 31, 2020 08:08 PM

A staff member takes out samples of the COVID-19 inactivated vaccine at a vaccine production plant of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) in Beijing, capital of China, April 11, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei)

Chinese officials and experts on Friday pushed back against fresh unsubstantiated allegations from the US that China was backing hackers to steal data from a US biotech firm developing a COVID-19 vaccine, calling the move a "smear campaign" against China.

The new US accusations also coincided with an EU move to impose sanctions on what it claims to be Russian and Chinese hackers over alleged cyberattacks, which shows that the West might be stepping up their efforts, coordinated or otherwise, to smear China and Russia as a geopolitical gambit, experts noted. 

Citing an unnamed US security official, Reuters reported on Friday that China-backed hackers tried to steal "valuable data" from US firm Moderna, which, as the report noted, is working on a coronavirus vaccine. 

Asked about the report at a press briefing on Friday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, did not mince words. "The international community is clear-eyed about such tricks and plots to spread rumors and smears using unnamed sources," Wang said.

He added that China is in a leading position in terms of developing a vaccine for the COVID-19, and "does not need to steal to get ahead. In fact, we are the ones who are worried some countries might hack Chinese technologies."

As countries race for a vaccine for the deadly virus, the US, which has the worst outbreak in the world, and other Western countries have been frequently accusing China and Russia for engaging in cyberattacks.

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, said that the accusations are "just slander for propaganda purposes," and that China has the advantage and scientific and technological capabilities to develop a vaccine independently. 

"China is the first country which disclosed the coronavirus strain for research, with some countries keeping it a secret after the pandemic broke out globally," Yang told the Global Times on Friday, adding that "there is no need to steal their data." 

He also added that there is no big gap between China, Russia US and some EU countries in terms of research and development for a vaccine. 

The Reuters report came a day after the EU on Thursday imposed what was billed as its first ever sanctions against Chinese, Russian and other entities and individuals for alleged cyberattacks, targeting multinational companies.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Mission to the EU said on Friday that China was opposed to the unilateral sanctions, and called for dialogue and cooperation to protect cybersecurity.

But the accusations from the US and the EU might suggest that the US and its European allies are stepping up their smear campaign against China and Russia for geopolitical reasons, according to Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University.

"In the short-term, this is for the US elections. The harder [the Trump administration] smears China, the easier it will be to avoid responsibility for its incompetence domestically," Li told the Global Times on Friday, adding that the West's long-term purpose is to preserve their dominance.

He added that the US and some Western officials chose to smear China and Russia because they think they can get away with not providing any evidence, and that it is easy to spread fear among Western societies in the new, intangible area.