American civil servants have attacked China’s cyber-espionage programme after the emerging superpower called for tech companies to supply them with backdoors into their software.
Writing in the US journal Politico cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel, trade ambassador Robert Holleyman and copyright regulator Alex Niejelow attacked the Chinese attitude to an open internet, criticising the "top-down, government-led approach" the country had taken.
"The United States remains deeply concerned about China’s continuing and indisputable government-sponsored cyber theft from companies and commercial sectors around the world for Chinese companies’ advantage," they said.
"This behavior is adversely affecting the fundamentals of the U.S.-China relationship, harming the ties of our business community, tarnishing Chinese firms’ international image, and at a broader level, undermining the basic foundations of free and fair commerce."
Relations between the US and China over the Internet have been fraught over the last few years, with America’s complaints over cyber-espionage lambasted as hypocritical after details of its own misbehaviour were leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Last May the US Department of Justice even indicted five Chinese soldiers for allegedly stealing trade secrets from American companies, a move that was strongly condemned in Beijing.
China’s request for access to source code and backdoor access to software also mirrors recent proposals by British prime minister David Cameron, who visited Washington last month to discuss cooperation on cybersecurity measures, among other topics.
"The United States and China differ on certain fundamental issues related to the Internet and cybersecurity," the officials added. "That much is beyond dispute.
"Our Chinese counterparts have told us that the United States and China should work together to build a more open, secure, interoperable and reliable cyberspace. We couldn’t agree more. Both of our countries want to maximize the social and economic power of the Internet."
The US is also widely thought to have been behind Stuxnet, a cyber-weapon that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges as early as 2009 and is believed to have been created in a partnership with Israel.