A US government report has warned that China is increasing espionage against the US as the rising Asian power invests in cyber warfare along with stepping up its recruitment of spies.
In an annual report to congress on Thursday, the US-China Economic and Security
Review Commission reported a steep rise in the disruption and infiltration of websites
of the US government.
Colonel Gary McAlum, a senior military officer, told the commission that the US defence department detected 54,640 malicious cyber incidents to its systems in 2008, a 20 per cent rise from a year earlier.
The figure is on track to jump another 60 per cent this year.
"China is changing the way that espionage is being done," Carolyn Bartholomew, the commission's chair, said.
While the attacks came from around the world, the commission said China was the largest culprit.
Some Chinese "patriotic hackers" may not receive official support, but the report said the government may deploy them in a conflict to disrupt a foreign adversary's computers.
The bipartisan commission found that China was the most aggressive nation in spying on the US and was trying to recruit more American spies.
Authorities in Beijing rejected the report, calling its a "fabrication".
"The commission has always played up China threat. It has arisen out of a 'Cold War mindset'," Ma Zhaoxu, the foreign ministry spokesman, said.
"The commission should stop releasing such kind of reports and instead do something that will benefit the China-US relations."
The US report was published after President Barack Obama embarked on a three-day trip to China, meeting the country's leaders.
In an attempt to forge closer ties with the country, analysts believe Obama went into the meetings with a weaker hand than most past US presidents, with US prestige battered by the economic recession as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The commission also criticised China on its trade policy, recommending that Washington press Beijing to make its yuan more flexible and to turn to the World Trade Organisation to fight what it termed "predatory trade practices".
Shortly after the release of the report, two politicians called for an investigation into China's "currency manipulation," which would set the stage for imposing import duties on Chinese goods.