US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday accused China of "stealing" US intellectual property and data related to COVID-19 research. Pompeo’s allegations came a day after the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security claimed that organisations conducting research into COVID-19 may be targeted by computer hackers linked to the Chinese government.
“The US condemns attempts by cyber actors and non-traditional collectors affiliated with People’s Republic of China (PRC) to steal US intellectual property and data related to COVID-19 research,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“The United States calls on China to cease this malicious activity,” Pompeo said, adding that the “potential theft” of this information jeopardises the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.
China on Thursday termed as “slanderous” the US accusation that hackers backed by Beijing may be attempting to steal COVID-19 related research and vaccine materials and said that "smearing and scapegoating" others will not make the deadly virus go away.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said US officials are shifting the blame on Beijing as they struggled to handle the coronavirus pandemic back home.
The US claims have added fuel to tensions between the two nations, which are engaged in a war of words over the origin of the coronavirus that has killed over 300,000 people globally. Pompeo alleged that China’s behaviour in cyberspace is an extension of its counterproductive actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pompeo in the strongly-worded statement said while the US and its allies and partners are coordinating a collective, transparent response to save lives, "China continues to silence scientists, journalists, and citizens, and to spread disinformation, which has exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis.”
The FBI said that it is "investigating the targeting and compromise of US organisations conducting COVID-19-related research by China-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors."
"These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research," the FBI said.
The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options, it said.