A day after the Justice Department charged five Chinese military officers with cyber-espionage, the Defense Department said Tuesday it will continue pursuing military relations with China.
Attorney General Eric Holder released indictments Monday accusing five officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with hacking into the networks of six U.S. companies and stealing trade secrets. It is the first time the U.S. has officially charged active members of the PLA with cybercrimes stemming from economic espionage activities.
Between 2006 and 2014, the accused — Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu and Gu Chunhui — allegedly broke into the networks of Westinghouse Electric Co.; U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG; United States Steel Corp.; Allegheny Technologies Inc.; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union; and Alcoa Inc. to steal proprietary and confidential information.
The alleged actions of those five men, though, did not deter the Pentagon from pursuing better military relations with the PLA.
“We still desire, from a military perspective, to further grow and develop the military-to-military relationship and to find ways to have a more productive conversation about these very tough issues,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. “Cyber’s one of them.”
These alleged crimes will likely lead to trust issues between the two countries’ militaries, but Kirby said that gives DOD more incentive to improve communication with China. In fact, though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hasn’t yet spoken to his Chinese counterpart about the issue, the Pentagon is leaving it up to the PLA to determine the future state of relations between the two militaries.
“The degree to which it affects our military relationship is largely up to them, and their conduct and their behavior,” Kirby said. “We still believe that it’s an important relationship to have; we still want to keep the lines of communication open.”
The Chinese aren’t reacting so amicably, though, having already pulled their involvement from the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group yesterday in protest.
“Given the lack of sincerity on the part of the U.S. to solve issues related to cyber security through dialogue and cooperation, China has decided to suspend activities of the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
China’s Ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said, “The accusations that the United States have made against these Chinese officials are purely fictitious and extremely absurd,” according to Reuters.
Despite the tension, Kirby said DOD wants to keep communication on cyber open and transparent with the Chinese and work at redeveloping a mutual trust.