Washington: The United States believes that China’s leadership has directed a hacking campaign into computers of Google and Western governments, according to US diplomatic files leaked Sunday.
The documents obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks revealed the intense and sometimes fraught diplomacy between the two Pacific powers on a range of issues — particularly Iran and North Korea.
In one cable, the US embassy in Beijing said it learned from “a Chinese contact” that the country’s Politburo had led years of hacking into computers of the United States, its allies and Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The New York Times, which viewed the cable, said the embassy found that attacks against Google were “part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government.”
Google announced in March that it would no longer follow the communist government’s instructions to filter searches for sensitive material after attacks against the company and Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents.
Hacking campaigns originating from China have been reported before, but US officials have stopped short of publicly accusing Beijing of orchestrating cyber warfare.
The thousands of leaked documents also recounted efforts by the United States to persuade China to rein in North Korea.
In one secret memo on the WikiLeaks website, the United States in 2008 instructed its embassies to press China and Central Asian nations to block a North Korean plane suspected of proliferating weapons to Iran.
In another cable a year earlier reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the United States asked Beijing to stop what it believed to be a missile shipment from North Korea to Iran transiting through China.
Beijing is considered the only country with real influence in reclusive North Korea.
In a meeting late last year, senior Chinese official Wang Jiarui is quoted as reiterating Beijing’s call for stability on the Korean peninsula and urging the United States to reach out to the North by promising not to seek regime change.
Despite the lack of movement on North Korea, the documents gave an upbeat US assessment on China’s position on Iran.
A cable on the WikiLeaks website said Wang praised US policy on Iran in a meeting with Williams Burns, the State Department number three, and said Tehran should not seek nuclear weapons.
In another cable, a Chinese official dismissed concerns that Beijing’s standing in the Islamic world was hurt by its response to 2009 ethnic bloodshed in the Xinjiang region, whose indigenous Uighur population is mostly Muslim.
An official was quoted as saying that China had stepped up media outreach in the Middle East to prevent any backlash, including setting up an Arabic-language version of state-run China Central Television.
The cables show China venting anger at the United States for refusing to hand over 22 Uighurs originally held at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The United States cleared the men of wrongdoing but feared they would face persecution in China.
Cables depicted US officials searching the world asking countries to take Guantanamo inmates, with Slovenia’s leadership told that a meeting with US President Barack Obama was linked to its decision on taking a prisoner.
According to another document, the US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan last year confronted her Chinese counterpart on information that Beijing offered $3 billion if the neighboring country shut the Manas air base, a key US conduit for the war in Afghanistan.
The Chinese ambassador, Zhang Yannian, “ridiculed the notion of such a deal, he did not deny it outright,” US ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller wrote.
“‘It would take three dollars from every Chinese person’ to pay for it,” she quoted him as saying. “‘If our people found out, there’d be a revolution.´”
The United States eventually renewed US rights to the air base after the United States ramped up compensation.