May 14 (UPI) -- The United States condemns China's attempts to "steal" U.S. intellectual property and data related to COVID-19 research, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday after federal authorities warned the Chinese government was looking to hack U.S. organizations.
The statement of condemnation follows the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issuing a public service announcement on Wednesday to warn U.S. organizations researching the coronavirus to be on the lookout for suspicious activity, stating "China's efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation's response to COVID-19."
The United States' top diplomat called on the People's Republic of China to "cease this malicious activity."
"The PRC's behavior in cyberspace is an extension of its counterproductive actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic," Pompeo said in a statement Thursday. "While the United States and our allies and partners are coordinating a collective, transparent response to save lives, the PRC continues to silence scientists journalists and citizens, and to spread disinformation, which has exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis."
According to the Wednesday warning from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's CISA, actors on China's behalf have been "observed" attempting to find and "illicitly obtain" U.S. intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments and testing through networks and personnel connected to COVID-19 research.
Pompeo reiterated that theft of this information may jeopardize treatment options in the United States.
Following the release of the FBI report, China chastized it as "slanderous," stating the Chinese Communist Party has no need to steal such information as it is "leading the world in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research."
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a regular press briefing Thursday China is a victim of cyberattacks and opposes it in all forms, accusing the United States of spreading rumors to "scapegoat" from its own response.
"It should not seek to distract attention and deflect responsibility by unrelentingly pinning the blame on others," he said.
Tensions between the two countries have risen amid the coronavirus pandemic as the United States has repeatedly accused China of attempting to coverup its initial outbreak -- accusations that China, ground zero of the virus, has denied.
The United States has also frequently accused the Asian nation of withholding key information about COVID-19, including the identity of the so-called patient zero, and Pompeo early this month blamed China's opacity and efforts to conceal the outbreak for the hundreds of thousands of deaths attributed to the virus.
The disease, which emerged in early December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has since infected the world over, claiming more than 300,000 lives and sickening more than 4.4 million people, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.