The US has handed down its first ever charges for cyber-espionage to five Chinese military officials, who are accused of hacking into American companies.
According to the indictment announced on Monday, hackers targeted the US nuclear power, metals and solar products industries and are accused of stealing trade secrets and economic espionage.
"In sum, the alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no other reason than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China at the expense of businesses here in the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters at a press conference.
"This is a tactic that the United States government categorically denounces."
The alleged victims are Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Company Allegheny Technologies, US Steel Corporation, the United Steelworkers Union, and SolarWorld.
John Carlin, head of the US Justice Department's national security division, said the hacking into Westinghouse had taken place while it negotiated with a state-owned Chinese company to build nuclear power plants and saw secret design plans stolen.
"In the past, when we brought concerns such as these to Chinese government officials, they responded by publicly challenging us to provide hard evidence of their hacking that could stand up in court," Carlin said, according to the BBC.
The accused are Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui.
They were described as members of a People’s Liberation Army entity known as Unit 61398.
In a statement on its website, China's Foreign Ministry said: "The United States fabricated facts, the so-called network theft grounds to prosecute five Chinese officers announced the move a serious violation of the basic norms of international relations, damage Sino-US cooperation and mutual trust.
"China has protested to the United States for the first time, urged the U.S. side to correct the error immediately revoke the so-called prosecution."