Barely a month after the two countries agreed to work together on cybersecurity, China suspended cooperation with the U.S. on Monday after the Justice Department charged five Chinese military hackers with cyberespionage.
The "deliberately fabricated" charges put U.S.-Chinese relations in jeopardy, the Foreign Ministry said in a blisteringly worded statement that accuses the U.S. of its own "large-scale and organized cyber theft" in violation of international law.
In retaliation, it said, "China has decided to suspend activities of the China-US Cyber Working Group" — the high-level diplomatic initiative both countries agreed to in April to stop their war of words over allegations of government-sponsored hacking.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said the U.S. was disappointed by China's announcement, saying Secretary of State John Kerry hoped a U.S.-China strategic and economic conference would go on as scheduled in July.
"We regret, of course, the decision about the suspension of activities related to this Cyber Working Group, but we continue to believe that dialogue on these important issues is the best way forward," Psaki said Monday.
"We expect the Chinese government to understand that today's announcement relates to law enforcement," she said, calling the charges "consistent with the concerns we've candidly raised with the Chinese government on these issues."
FBI Director James Comey told NBC News that "for too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyberespionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries."
But the Chinese statement, which was prominently published in Chinese and English on the Foreign Ministry website, accused the U.S. of hypocrisy and "insincerity," casting Beijing as the real victim.
"Large amounts of publicly disclosed information show that relevant US institutions have been conducting cyber intrusion, wiretapping and surveillance activities against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities and individuals," the statement said.
"China has, on many occasions, made serious representations with the US side," it said. "We once again strongly urge the US side to make a clear explanation of what it has done and immediately stop such kind of activities."