Li Rejects U.S. Hacking Allegations Against China as Groundless

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China’s new government will, as in the past, “attach great importance to our relationship with the United States, a relationship between the world’s largest developed country and the world’s largest developing country.” Photographer: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

March 18 (Bloomberg) -- Premier Li Keqiang said the U.S. should stop making “groundless accusations” against China regarding cybersecurity and focus on taking “practical” action over the issue.

Hacking is a “worldwide problem and in fact China itself is a main victim of such attacks,” Li said at his first press briefing since his appointment by the National People’s Congress March 15. “China does not support -- in fact it is opposed to - - hacking attacks,” he said.

Cybersecurity has vaulted to the top of the U.S. agenda as President Barack Obama seeks to curb attacks on corporate networks that U.S. intelligence agencies and security firms such as Mandiant Corp. have traced to China. Obama told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping last week that the issue will be a key part of bilateral talks, and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew will discuss the concerns during a visit to Beijing this week, a senior U.S. administration official said March 15.

“I think we should not make groundless accusations against each other and spend more time doing practical things that will contribute to cybersecurity,” Li said yesterday. “In your question I sensed the presumption of guilt,” he said in response to a reporter who asked, “Will China stop the cyber-hacking against the U.S. since it has now become an issue of American national security?”

‘Great Importance’

Li also said China’s new government will, as in the past, “attach great importance to our relationship with the United States, a relationship between the world’s largest developed country and the world’s largest developing country.” China “will work with the Obama administration to work together to build a new type of major country relationship,” he said.

White House officials are increasing their public efforts to hold China accountable for hacking. During a phone call on March 14, Obama and Xi committed to discussions on hacker threats as part of regular conversations on security and economic matters, according to Ben Rhodes, deputy U.S. national security adviser.

National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon last week said that China is waging a campaign of cyber espionage against U.S. companies that is threatening to derail Obama’s second-term effort to improve ties. He called on the Chinese government to recognize the scope of the hacking issue, take steps to halt computer espionage and start a “constructive dialogue” with the U.S. on standards for conduct in cyberspace.

Hacking Group

A report published last month by Mandiant said China’s military may be behind a computer-hacking group that has attacked at least 141 companies worldwide since 2006.

China’s military has never supported hacking and it’s inaccurate and unprofessional to accuse it of Internet attacks, the Ministry of Defense said after the report. The Chinese government has repeatedly said it opposes cyber-attacks.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last month that China is concerned that some countries want to make the Internet a “new battleground,” without naming the nations. At a regular briefing last week, Hua said China will work with the international community, including the U.S. to “protect peace, safety, openness and cooperation in cyberspace.”

Yang Jiechi, who was elevated March 16 to state councilor from foreign minister, said at a March 9 press briefing that articles blaming China’s government and military for computer hacking are on “shaky ground” and such stories serve political motives.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Nerys Avery in Beijing at navery2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Panckhurst at ppanckhurst@bloomberg.net