Diplomats from the EU, UK, Canada, Norway and New Zealand issued statements Tuesday calling the allegations “baseless” and “malicious defamation.”
“China urges Canada to abandon its Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices. . . stop political manipulation on relevant issues and stop unprovoked attacks and deliberate slander against China, ”said the Beijing Embassy in Ottawa.
Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, stressed that the claims of a small number of countries do not represent the international community and called on the United States to end its own cyber attacks against his country.
“China will take the necessary measures to firmly protect its cybersecurity and its own interests,” he said.
Beijing’s forceful response follows a rare coordinated effort by the US, NATO, EU, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Western allies have accused China of collaborating with criminal cyber gangs and compromising global security, including an attack on Microsoft’s Exchange app that allowed hackers to access messaging systems for a wide range of private and public sector organizations.
The United States has also alleged that the Beijing State Security Department oversaw a massive infiltration campaign of foreign companies, universities and government organizations for much of the 2010s.
The Global Times, a state-backed tabloid, accused US-based hackers of long-standing and repeated cyberattacks against Chinese companies, research institutes and Communist Party departments. The nationalist newspaper alleged that a US-based group called “A” launched brute force attacks last October in an attempt to remotely access the servers of Chinese groups, including Chinese steel companies. and automotive engines.
“All major countries occasionally suffer from cyber attacks and in this regard, China has been hit much harder than the United States,” he wrote in an op-ed.
“The United States is forcibly creating a new geopolitical realm by turning an internet dispute into a major confrontation,” calling on allies to portray China as a sinister actor, he added.
The coordinated effort followed a separate joint approach by the US, UK, EU and Canada in March to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for the mass internment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Beijing retaliated with its own sanctions and the resulting diplomatic row led to a freeze on EU-China market access negotiations.
Fergus Hanson, director of the International Cyber Policy Center at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, said the multilateral approach was “more difficult to counter” for China.
“Beijing would like to keep the issue bilateral, where it can appeal or punish individual countries,” he said.
The accusations regarding China’s alleged cyber activities came amid heightened diplomatic hostilities between the world’s two largest economies.
Washington and Beijing have not held high-level meetings since March, when talks in Alaska between Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, and Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, ended acrimoniously.
Beijing this month refused to grant Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State, a meeting with her counterpart in China during her visit to Asia this week. China had previously rejected requests by Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense, to meet with General Xu Qiliang, China’s top military official.
The latest US-China standoff has also emerged as Joe Biden seeks to step up his commitment after months of taking a tougher stance against the policies of President Xi Jinping.
Despite these overtures, however, the Biden administration has continued to exert pressure on Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and policies that erode the freedoms promised at the financial center after the transition from British rule to Chinese rule in 1997.
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing
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