The United States ambassador to China has warned that cyber crime originating from the Communist-ruled country represents a real threat and that if necessary, the White House will act in order to stop computer hackers from stealing trade secrets.
Max Baucus, who was appointed to the role of US ambassador to China in March, made the comments during a speech to American businessmen in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
It marks the latest in a series of stand-offs between the US and Chinese governments surrounding the issues of computer hacking and cyber espionage. Both sides have claimed to have had their systems compromised and data stolen by agents working on behalf of government and businesses and both sides have denied involvement in such activities.
Nonetheless, Baucus told the audience that the cyber security threat from China is real and must be dealt with.
"Cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets by state actors in China has emerged as a major threat to our economic and thus national security," he said, before going onto argue that if the Chinese government is actively encouraging hackers to steal data, then that runs counter to China's World Trade Organisation Commitments, with the country having been a member of the group since 2001.
Baucus declared if Chinese agents were committing physical thefts, then the US wouldn't sit idly and let them happen, so dealing with cyber thefts made through malicious computer hacking activities should be treated with the same severity.
"We won't sit idly by when a crime is committed in the real world, so why should we when it happens in cyber space? We will continue to use diplomatic and legal means to make clear that this type of behaviour must stop," he said.
However, despite the rhetoric, Baucus also stated that China represented one of the USA's "most important bilateral relationships," meaning cooperation between the two countries to fight issues including cyber security is "vital".