BEIJING (Reuters) - China reacted angrily on Friday following a call by America's top intelligence official for cyber security against China to be stepped up, and said the United States should stop "groundless accusations".
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the United States must beef up cyber security against Chinese hackers targeting a range of U.S. interests to raise the cost to China of engaging in such activities.
Clapper's testimony adds pressure on Beijing over its conduct in cyberspace weeks before President Xi Jinping visits the United States.
China routinely denies any involvement in hacking and says it is also a victim.
"Maintaining cyber security should be a point of cooperation rather than a source of friction between both China and the United States," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.
"We hope that the U.S. stops its groundless attacks against China, start dialogue based on a foundation of mutual respect, and jointly build a cyberspace that is peaceful, secure, open and cooperative."
The Obama administration is considering targeted sanctions against Chinese individuals and companies for cyber attacks against U.S. commercial targets, several U.S. officials have said.
Chinese hackers wee also implicated in extensive hacking of the U.S. government's personnel office disclosed this year.
China's top diplomat took a softer line in an interview published on Friday in the state-run China Daily, saying China and the United States can cooperate and work with other countries on global cyber security rules in a spirit of respect.
"China and the United States actually can make cyber security a point of cooperation," State Councilor Yang Jiechi said in the interview, which focused on Xi's state visit to America.
"We hope China, the United States and other countries could work together to work out the rules for cyber security in the international arena in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," said Yang, who outranks the foreign minister.
Yang noted, as Chinese officials regularly do, that China was itself a hacking victim and said suspected cases should be investigated and handled "on a solid, factual basis".
His comments were not a direct reaction to Clapper's.
On another point of friction between the United States and China - territorial disputes in the South China Sea - Yang said he hoped the United States would stay on the sidelines because it was not part of the disputes.
He added, though: "It is important for both countries to stay in close touch even if they have different perceptions and views."
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)