China deployed oil rig with supporting vessels
Most recently, and just a couple of days after Obama completed a high-profile visit to Asia, China deployed a massive oil rig with dozens of supporting vessels to drill in a disputed area off the coast of Vietnam, near islands controlled by China but claimed by both nations. That sparked an offshore confrontation with Vietnamese vessels and triggered angry protests inside Vietnam that killed two Chinese workers and wounded 140 more.
Douglas Paal, an Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that while the indictment of the military officials is the culmination of two years of increasing U.S. pressure on China on cyber issues, "a lot of Chinese will think the administration is doing this now as they are looking for some way to get a hook into China."
American concern over the Shanghai-based military unit to which the five indicted officials are said to belong has been public knowledge for more than a year. The U.S. Internet security firm Mandiant issued a report in February 2013 tracing hacking activities against 141 foreign entities in the U.S., Canada and Britain to that unit.
A month later, the Obama administration upped the diplomatic ante by directly calling for China to take serious steps to stop cyber-theft.
Talks on the issue, now suspended by China, have gained little traction. Analysts say Beijing does not draw the same distinction as the U.S. between spying for national security reasons, which Washington views as defensible, and economic espionage to gain market advantage, which it views as unacceptable.
The administration's message has also been diluted by the revelations of former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden over U.S. eavesdropping on foreign communications �� even against allies.
"The Chinese for the past year have been blowing off U.S. charges on cyber by pointing to Snowden. The indictment now gives the U.S. side a very concrete example to show to the Chinese, that what your guys are doing is different," said Michael Green, a former White House director for Asian affairs in the George W. Bush administration.