By Justin Sink - 05/19/14 02:44 PM EDT
The White House on Monday said the decision to indict Chinese military officials with economic espionage stemmed from frustration that Beijing had done little to stop cyber spying despite President Obama’s personal appeals.
"This is an issue that has been brought up by President Obama with President Xi in their meetings as recently as in March as a general problem that we have seen, and reflects the president's overall concern about cybersecurity," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
The White House spokesman said the U.S. was "not going to sugarcoat our disagreements" over the cyber spying and that the action represented a "clear-eyed approach" to confronting the Chinese.
The Justice Department announced the indictments earlier Monday, the first of its kind against members of a foreign military. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Chinese targeted six American companies in the nuclear, solar and metals industries.
According to the indictment, hackers stole both trade secrets and long-term strategic plans from companies like Alcoa, U.S. Steel and the United Steelworkers Union.
Still, the U.S. remains "committed" to "developing a constructive and productive relationship with China and are ready to work with China to prevent this activity from continuing," Carney said.
The hackers are unlikely to ever travel to the United States to face the decades of jail time their alleged crimes carry, and Carney sidestepped questions about whether the move would be effective.
"I think the implication of the question is that the individuals shouldn't be charged in that case, which I don't think is the way that anyone here would view these matters when it comes to making sure that justice is served," Carney said.
The White House also pushed back at critics who compared Chinese cyber spying to the spying by the National Security Agency on foreign companies disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
"There is no comparison here," Carney said. "Since well before these recent disclosures, we have made clear that our signals intelligence programs serve a specific national security mission, and that does not include providing a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. economic interests.
“In other words, we do not do what those Chinese nationals were indicted for earlier today, period," he added.