- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2015

China reportedly arrested several computer hackers at the behest of the United States government weeks ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House last month as the U.S. continues to weigh imposing sanctions as a result of cyberattacks blamed on Beijing.

Officials within the Obama administration confirmed the arrests to the Washington Post on Friday and said the individuals apprehended are accused of participating in espionage campaigns in which secrets were stolen from U.S. companies to be handed off to competitors in China.

But with the arrests having occurred amid ongoing talks concerning the possible imposition of sanctions against China as a result of wave of cyberattacks, the White House is now waiting to see if authorities will move forward with prosecuting the supposed criminals or let their actions slide.

“We need to know that you’re serious,” an individual who spoke with the Post on condition of anonymity said in explaining the reasoning for requesting the arrests. “So we gave them a list, and we said, ‘Look, here’s these guys. Round them up.’”

The U.S. government has repeatedly attributed high-profile computer intrusions and data breaches on the People’s Republic of China and hackers acting on its behalf, including attacks waged against federal targets and corporate entities alike.

National Security Agency documents suggest Chinese cybercriminals has successfully pilfered data from the computer systems of more than 600 American targets since 2009, and last year the Justice Department indicted five members of the People’s Liberation Army who are accused of breaking into energy industry computers and stealing sensitive data.

Nevertheless, President Xi said during his visit to the U.S. late last month that “The Chinese government will not in whatever form engage in commercial theft, and hacking against government networks are crimes that must be punished in accordance with the law and relevant international treaties.”

President Obama announced after last month’s visit that he had reached a “common understanding” with his Chinese counterpart with regards to offensive conduct in the cyber sphere, but suggested the U.S. was still open to taking action if necessary.

“The question now is, are words followed by actions?” Mr. Obama said. “We will be watching carefully to make an assessment as to whether progress has been made in this area.”

U.S. officials told the Washington Post that the White House was very close to announcing sanctions before an agreement was reached, and said the possibility of imposing penalties currently remains on the table.

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