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US To Slap Chinese Hackers With Sanctions Ahead Of Xi Visit

Early last month, the Obama administration made a bold decision.

The White House decided, after careful deliberations, that the cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management was, to quote The New York Times, "so vast in scope and ambition that the usual practices for dealing with traditional espionage cases [do] not apply." In short:

This came just days after a "secret" NSA map "leaked" to the press showing the alleged frequency of cyber intrusions emanating from China. Here’s the map:

"The prizes that China pilfered during its ‘intrusions’ included everything from specifications for hybrid cars to formulas for pharmaceutical products to details about U.S. military and civilian air traffic control systems," intelligence sources told NBC, who broke the story. 

We summed up six months of ridiculous back-and-forth cyber banter as follows:

The release of the map marked the culmination of a cyber attack propaganda campaign which began with accusations that North Korea had attempted to sabotage Sony, reached peak absurdity when Penn State claimed Chinese spies had taken control of the campus engineering department, and turned serious when Washington blamed China for what was deemed "the largest theft of US government data ever." Whether all of this is cause for the Pentagon to activate the 'offensive' component of its brand new cyber strategy remains to be seen.

Now, FT says the US is ready to respond to by “slapping sanctions on Chinese companies connected to the cyber theft of US intellectual property.” Furthermore, the US is apparently prepared to risk announcing the sanctions ahead of Xi Jinping’s first official visit to the US. Here’s FT:

The Obama administration has for months been preparing a raft of sanctions to respond to mounting commercial espionage from China. Three US officials said the sanctions would probably be unveiled next week, just weeks before Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first state visit to America.

 

Officials have been divided over whether the administration should impose the sanctions before the Xi visit. Proponents argue that the US needs to show China that it is serious about tackling cyber espionage. But opponents worry that such timing would seriously damage the visit.

 

The state department had been pushing for the sanctions to come after it, according to people familiar with the situation. But law enforcement officials argued against waiting because of the serious nature of the cyber attacks.

 

One official said the move would probably come next week, after the US Labour Day holiday. He said the White House wanted to avoid slapping China with sanctions immediately before the visit, to give China time to cool down before Mr Xi meets President Barack Obama in Washington.

 

China wants to boost Mr Xi’s status as a global leader, but his visit — which will include a 21-gun salute and a big banquet — will be overshadowed by the Pope’s, which will attract huge media coverage, and also the move to impose sanctions.

 

One former US official said: “The cyber sanctions could really throw a spanner in things. There is no reason to embarrass the president of China. It would crater the visit.”

Yes, "no reason to embarrass" Xi, because after all, Xi is not a man who enjoys being embarrassed. Just ask any of the 200 people who were arrested over the past week for conspiring to use the stock market selloff as an "opportunity to maliciously concoct rumors to attack [the] Party and national leaders." 

So we will await the details on the first round of US "cyber sanctions" against the legions of Chinese hackers who have apparently stolen everything from the blueprints for electric cars to delicate information about America's ultra-modern airtraffic control network, and in the meantime, simply ask whether another set of "sanctions" are being prepared in response to the PLA navy's unprecedented operations off the coast of Alaska.

And meanwhile, in China...