May 18, 2024

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New Zealand joins UK and US in accusing China of hacking and spying as concerted pressure mounts on Beijing

New Zealand joins UK and US in accusing China of hacking and spying as concerted pressure mounts on Beijing

(CNN) — As Beijing faces increasing scrutiny in an election year critical to democracies around the world, New Zealand has joined the United States and the United Kingdom in accusing China of “malicious” cyber attacks by state-backed hackers.

Hackers linked to the Chinese government attacked New Zealand's parliament in 2021, Defense Minister Judith Collins said on Tuesday, the first time China has publicly attributed cyber attacks on its government systems to China.

The accusation comes a day after the US and UK declared Criminal charges and sanctions against seven Chinese hackers who allegedly carried out extensive attacks on behalf of China's civilian intelligence agency.

The years-long campaign reportedly affected millions of people, targeting US officials, senators, journalists and businesses, including Pentagon contractors, members of the British Parliament, the UK Electoral Commission and members of the European Parliament.

The Chinese embassy in London dismissed the claims as “totally baseless” and “malicious slander”, calling the sanctions “blatant political manipulation”.

“China is a major victim of cyber attacks. We have resolutely combated and stopped all forms of malicious cyber activities in accordance with the law, and have never encouraged, supported or tolerated cyber attacks,” the embassy said. .

But the indictment of a third member of the so-called Five Eyes alliance shows that major Western democracies are taking a more unified and united stance against Beijing's unacceptable levels of hacking and spying.

New Zealand cyber security officials said they “completed a robust technical assessment following the 2021 breach of the Parliamentary Council Office and Parliamentary Service, and attributed the activity to a Chinese state-backed group known as APT40”. Collins said in a statement.

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“Fortunately, in this case, (authorities) worked with the affected companies to contain the activity and remove the actor shortly after he was able to access the network.”

Collins told reporters on Tuesday that New Zealand would not follow the United States and the United Kingdom in imposing sanctions against China because there is no law authorizing such punishments.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Tuesday that Wellington had raised his concerns with Chinese Ambassador Wang Xiaolong.

“This type of foreign interference is unacceptable, and we have urged China to refrain from such actions in the future,” Peters said in a statement.

Australia and the European Union expressed solidarity with the United Kingdom and raised concerns about China's malicious cyber activities.

“Continued targeting of democratic institutions and processes has implications for democratic and open societies like Australia. This behavior is unacceptable and must stop,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Home Affairs Minister Claire O'Neill said in a joint statement.

According to the US indictment, Chinese hackers also allegedly attacked the email accounts of members of the Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of lawmakers from various political parties, including all EU members in the group. The group consists of 19 members of the European Parliament.

Without mentioning China, the EU said it would continue to monitor and address malicious cyber activity and was ready to take additional measures when necessary.

“Ahead of the European and national elections, we are providing recommendations and guidance to public and private sector organizations in the EU to raise awareness of these cyber threats and improve the EU's cyber resilience,” he said in a statement.

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Canada also made public last year that China tried to interfere in its 2019 and 2021 elections and that Chinese diplomats tried to pressure a lawmaker critical of Beijing. Chinese officials have denied the allegations, calling them “totally baseless”.

— CNN's Wayne Chang and Hillary Whiteman contributed to this story.