A senior White House official has demanded that China stop hacking US computer systems and agree to a set of international rules on behavior in cyberspace.
In an escalation of the row between the two countries, President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E Donilon, said that hacking was taking place 'on an unprecedented scale'.
"Increasingly, US businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale," he told a meeting of the Asia Society in New York yesterday.
"The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country. As the President said in the State of the Union, we will take action to protect our economy against cyber-threats."
Donilon said that the US is now seeking commitments from China - first, a recognition of the fact that hacking is damaging international trade. He called on Beijing to investigate and put a stop to and to help establish 'acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace'.
"Both countries face risks when it comes to protecting personal data and communications, financial transactions, critical infrastructure, or the intellectual property and trade secrets that are so vital to innovation and economic growth," he said.
The hacking war between the US and China has become less and less covert in recent months. Last month, security form Mandiant upped the stakes by claiming that it had traced attacks on 140 organizations in the last seven years back to a specific office block in Shanghai - one occupied by a Chinese military unit.
Beijing responded by accusing the US of repeated attacks on its Defense Ministry and People's Liberation Army websites.
Indeed, a report from China's National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center (CNCERT/CC) on Sunday claimed that 85 Chinese sites have been hacked in the last six months - 39 of them by IP addresses within the US.
Ninety-six percent of phishing sites targeting Chinese e-commerce users were running on foreign servers, it claims, with US-based servers accounting for 73.1 percent.
"What is black is black, and what is white stays white," foreign minister Yang Jiechi told China Daily. "Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve a political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others nor whitewash themselves."