For several years, the U.S. has been complaining of state-sponsored hacking attacks from China which had mostly targeted the country's hi-tech companies with the aim of stealing secrets and passing them over to Chinese firms.
In an attempt to reiterate its stand against cyber stealing, a number of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have come up with a list of hackers who they believe should get arrested. China reportedly took the list into consideration and have placed a number of suspects under arrest. The exact number of people that were arrested remained unclear.
An official from the U.S. intelligence agencies expressed that the list of names that the government had wanted China to arrest is also a sort of a test to find out if the country is serious in collaborating with the U.S. in setting the rules on cyberwarfare. Establishing these rules could help prevent either side from the future launch of commercial espionage campaigns against each other.
"We need to know that you're serious," said the official whose identity was held anonymously. "Look, here's these guys. Round them up," the official continued after the list was handed over.
While the arrested individuals were suspected to be part of a state-sponsored economic espionage movement, it wasn't really clear if they are also connected with the Chinese military unit which is said to have focused heavily on cyberwarfare.
Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping came at an agreement wherein neither side will launch commercial espionage against the other. Part of the deal includes the commitment of China to provide the U.S. with "timely responses" to the U.S.' request for assistance that deal with hacking attacks.
After the series of arrests, U.S. administration officials are waiting to see whether it will lead to prosecution of the suspects. They made it clear on how a public trial could reflect the nation's consistent pursuit of the principles laid down by the criminal justice. There's also the reality that a public trial could discourage future hackers along with the assurance that the arrests were not a superficial way of defusing the tension between the two sides.
"You'd want to see it sustained over time," said one U.S. official who chose to hide his identity. "And in a situation when there wasn't a major state visit coming up. That will be the proof that the cooperation really is improving."
Obama has threatened beforehand that his administration would impose economic sanctions against China if the latter refuses to cooperate. However, James R. Clapper Jr, the National Intelligence director, said at the recently concluded Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that if China fails to stick to its promise and pursues in digital stealing of the U.S. commercial secrets in order to gain benefits for its own industries, the U.S.' economic sanctions will remain as a threat against the Asian superpower.