In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is developing a package of economic sanctions against individuals and companies in China who have benefited from the Chinese government’s theft of American secrets, the Washington Post reported late Sunday. A final decision has not been made over whether to issue the sanctions, but sources said the administration will likely decide in the next two weeks.
If President Barack Obama does decide to issue sanctions, it would be the first such use of them since he signed an order in April allowing for the freezing of financial assets against individuals and groups overseas who participate in cyberespionage. “As the president said when signing the executive order enabling the use of economic sanctions against malicious cyber actors, the administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront such actors,” an administration official told the Washington Post, emphasizing that the U.S. is doing everything it can to protect its own citizens.
Any move will come at a key moment in U.S.-China relations, with President Xi Jinping scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., in September for his first state visit. Cybertheft is only one of the sensitive issues the two leaders are likely to discuss. China’s currency devaluation, which last week triggered “Black Monday,” when the stock market fell by 1,000 points before recovering, and the country’s claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea, which have caused regional arguments, will also likely be discussed.