Republicans Urge President to Sanction China-Linked Hackers

July 20, 2020 Updated: July 20, 2020

Ranking Republican members from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, and Financial Services Committee sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday urging him to sanction China-linked hackers who have conducted cyberattacks on the United States and its institutions.

“We write with significant concerns regarding the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) continued malicious cyber activity targeting the United States,” Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), wrote. “For many years, the PRC has perpetrated cyber-attacks on Americans, our financial institutions, and even the U.S. government itself.”

The lawmakers said the response by past Administrations to these attacks was always to be lenient in the hope that there would be greater economic and diplomatic cooperation between China and the United States. The theory was that this type of engagement would push China to adopt a more democratic political system.

They said this approach has instead had the opposite effect and emboldened the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to increase cyberattacks that threaten U.S. security.

“By decades of not taking principled stands or enforcing violations of commitments, the United States has allowed the CCP to proceed down another path, which threatens the U.S. and global security,” the letter states.

The letter to the president comes a few weeks after the FBI warned organizations working on COVID-19 vaccines of their potential for being hacked by China.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a public service announcement today warning organizations researching COVID-19 of likely targeting and network compromise by the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” the statement by the FBI said.

“China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19. This announcement is intended to raise awareness for research institutions and the American public and provide resources and guidance for those who may be targeted,” the FBI’s statement continued.

Attorney General William Barr, in his remarks on July 16 on China, echoed the FBI’s warning of the threat of cyberattacks from the CCP.

“To tilt the playing field to its advantage, China’s communist government has perfected a wide array of predatory and often unlawful tactics: currency manipulation, tariffs, quotas, state-led strategic investments and acquisitions, theft and forced transfer of intellectual property, state subsidies, dumping, cyberattacks, and espionage,” said Barr.

Referring to the FBI’s warning about the recent CCP cyberattacks, the GOP members urged the president to apply harsh sanctions on this type of activity.

“To date, Treasury has not sufficiently imposed such sanctions on PRC actors for cyber-attacks on Americans or those entities in the PRC that benefit from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, but we believe the time may be ripe for considering such action,” the letter stated.

“These actions must have consequences. If we do not utilize our sanctions strategically in response to bad acts, our sanctions regime loses its deterrent effect, and we will only see these cyber-attacks from the PRC further escalate,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Republicans also asked the president to authorize a classified briefing for Congress to have the State and Treasury Departments update members about the recent cyberattacks carried out by CCP hackers, in order “to apprise us of the scope, number, and success rate of these attacks, as well as any plans the Treasury Department has moving forward to target the PRC-linked hackers responsible.”