The United States and China may start to undermine their own interests if they push the diplomatic tit-for-tat over cyber espionage much further, analysts say.
Washington observers told The Straits Times that both sides have few viable options for escalating the conflict, and thus they expect the two to, at best, persist with the ongoing low-intensity sparring.
Where the real change will take place, however, is behind the scenes as companies and governments on both sides ramp up defences against cyber attacks after the US indictment of five Chinese military personnel threw part of this shady practice into the open.
"It's like ballistic missile defence," said Dr Amitav Acharya, an international relations professor at the American University in Washington. "Both sides have massive numbers of weapons and deterrence sometimes doesn't work, so you have strategic defence."
In the cyberarms world, that means beefing up defences against cyber attacks and engaging in counter-espionage like feeding misinformation, which forces spies to spend more time separating the wheat from the chaff.
The US-China cyber spying spat has been going on for years but really exploded only about a week ago when the US Justice Department indicted five People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers on charges of hacking into US firms to steal corporate secrets.
That sparked an angry response from China. Beijing has since issued its own report on US cyber spying, accusing Washington of large- scale spying on Chinese officials and businesses. It has also reportedly been cutting ties with US businesses in the country. Recent news reports said China has asked its state enterprises to cease dealing with US consulting firms and is pushing for its banks to switch IBM servers to local brands, even if officials have not confirmed the moves.