In what seems to be a direct precursor to talks held between China and the United States during Chinese President Xi’s stateside visit last month, the Chinese government has arrested several hackers after being asked to do so by the U.S. government.
The Washington Post reports that the Chinese government has taken the previously unheard of step to arrest hackers operating out of China at the behest of the U.S. government.
The arrests were apparently held before President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington after hackers who are alleged to have stolen commercial and critically sensitive secrets from U.S. corporations were identified by the U.S. government.
A source close to the matter told the publication that U.S. intelligence agencies along with other law enforcement agencies had drawn up a list of the alleged hackers.
“We need to know that you’re serious,” was the message given to the Chinese according to the source who revealed the arrests to the Washington Post.
“So we gave them a list and we said, ‘Look, here’s the guys. Round them up.’”
Which the Chinese government apparently have done.
The publication also reports that U.S. officials are following events related to the arrests closely in China to see if the Chinese government will, in fact, prosecute the hackers.
It’s still too early to say if the move by the Chinese government was merely one to appease the U.S. and avoid sanctions. Alternatively, it could mean the changing of China’s stance to embrace better diplomacy.
Another source, a high-ranking official who spoke with anonymity added:
“You’d want to see it sustained over time, 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.”
The recently concluded talks during President Xi’s visit had him pledge that the Chinese will assist with “timely responses” for requests regarding cyberattacks and cyber intrusions when approached by the U.S. government.
A complication, as one U.S. official points out, would be a public prosecution of the hackers by the Chinese government. Such an event would require the U.S. to share evidence that connects the alleged hackers and their crimes. The very sharing of such evidence will, according to the official, compromise the methods in which the U.S. government tracked and located the suspects.