President Obama's national security advisor this week urged the Chinese to stop hacking US targets and "establish acceptable norms of behavior" for cyberspace.
In a speech to The Asia Society, Tom Donilon said cyber security issues have "become a key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments."
Donilon, however, said he is "not talking about ordinary cybercrime or hacking." The government is currently most concerned about hacks that appear to have originated in China and target US businesses in order to steal intellectual property. In recent years, companies like Google and the New York Times have reported such activity.
"The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country," Donilon said. "The United States will do all it must to protect our national networks, critical infrastructure, and our valuable public and private sector property."
Donilon made three requests of the Chinese: recognise the urgency and scope of the problem and the risk it poses - to international trade, to the reputation of Chinese industry and to US-China relations; take serious steps to investigate and put a stop to these activities; and engage with the US to develop acceptable norms of behaviour in cyberspace.
Thus far, China has denied any wrongdoing and said accusations of hacking US targets are unprofessional. Officials also accused the US government of doing the same thing to Chinese targets. In conjuction with Israel, the US was said to be behind the spread of the Stuxnet virus in Iran.
Donilon's speech comes shortly after the publication of a report from security firm Mandiant, which said that a major China-based hacking operation appears to be run out of a building in Shanghai that houses the Chinese military.
"We have worked hard to build a constructive bilateral relationship that allows us to engage forthrightly on priority issues of concern," Donilon concluded. "And the United States and China, the world's two largest economies, both dependent on the Internet, must lead the way in addressing this problem."
During a press briefing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, was asked about this week's hack of the Reserve Bank of Australia, which supposedly originated in China.
"China's position on cyber attack is clear and consistent. The Chinese government firmly opposes and combats cyber attacks in accordance with the law," he said. "We are ready to work with the international community to carry out constructive dialogues and cooperation on safeguarding cyber security. We oppose groundless speculation and accusation on hacker attack issue."