Rubio: Threaten China with hacking sanctions

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Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Analysis: Pa. senator missed most Budget Committee hearings Susana Martinez fires back at Trump MORE (R-Fla.), a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, wants the Obama administration to use a summit with China this week to threaten sanctions over the recent massive hack of federal workers’ data.

“Increasingly China is acting as an irresponsible and destabilizing force,” Rubio said in a letter sent Monday to Obama. “If it is to be dissuaded from continuing down this dangerous path, Beijing’s provocations must be met with more than mere rhetoric.”

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The three-day U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) begins Monday. Cybersecurity is expected to be a key point of discussion, especially with U.S. officials privately accusing the Asian power of orchestrating the attacks on federal networks that have exposed up to 14 million people’s data.

“After six years of your administration’s participation in this dialogue, we need more than talking points,” Rubio said. “We need to see a change in Chinese behavior or real consequences for China’s increasingly egregious actions.”

Many in the GOP argue that Obama’s weak handling of China has empowered it to claim contested territory in the South China Sea and launch unfettered cyberattacks on American businesses and federal agencies without fear of repercussions.

As a result, Obama has faced growing calls to react strongly to the hack, particularly from the right.

Several presidential candidates, including Rubio, have called for harsh sanctions in response. Some have even suggested hacking back at China.

Rubio urged Obama to use the talks to convey to China that “as additional evidence comes to light, the U.S. will consider imposing sanctions against any Chinese government agencies or commercial enterprise found to have been involved in the recent cyberattack.”

The presidential hopeful also wants the administration to “immediately impose financial sanctions and pursue criminal charges against individual hackers implicated in the historic breach of U.S. government networks once they are identified.”

Obama signed an executive order in April giving the Treasury Department more power to levy sanctions on foreign powers behind individual cyberattacks.

But while U.S. officials have privately blamed China for the incident, many are doubtful the administration will publicly name its cyber adversary.

While the U.S.-China cybersecurity relationship is increasingly tense, neither side wants it to derail the overarching, economically vital relationship between the two, according to experts.

“I think they’re going to save [sanctions] for an intellectual property case,” said Adam Segal, a Chinese cyber policy expert and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to China’s digital theft of commercial trade secrets.