White House eyes sanctions for China over cyber-theft of trade secrets

The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports that under the direction of the Obama administration, US government officials are planning “a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals” who have profited from trade secrets stolen from US companies by Chinese government-sponsored hackers.

The talk of sanctions comes just weeks before the arrival of Chinese president Xi Jinping for a state visit, and it may just be talk—a final call on whether to impose sanctions will likely be made within the next two weeks, according to the Post’s unnamed administration sources. While the Justice Department announced indictments against members of China’s People’s Liberation Army for the electronic theft of trade secrets last year, the indictments were largely symbolic. The sanctions under discussion would likely include the seizure of economic assets of Chinese companies making use of what officials allege to be data stolen from US companies—and elevate tensions with China further as the governments continue to face off over other economic and military issues.

The sanctions will not, apparently, include action over the theft of US government employee data from the Office of Personnel Management. The administration’s concern is greater over economic espionage, including the theft of “everything from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code,” Nakashima reported. The Federal Bureau of Investigations reported last month that the number of economic espionage cases being investigated had jumped by 53 percent in the last year—and most of that growth was attributed to China’s aggressive use of computer and network espionage against US companies.

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