WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday charged five members of a shadowy Chinese military unit with hacking US companies for trade secrets, infuriating China which summoned the US ambassador.
China also suspended cooperation on cyber issues.
Hacking has long been a major sticking point in relations between the world's two largest economies, but Washington's move marked a major escalation in the dispute.
In the first-ever prosecution of state actors over cyber-espionage, a federal grand jury indicted the five on charges they broke into US computers to benefit Chinese state-owned companies, leading to job losses in the United States in steel, solar and other industries.
Attorney General Eric Holder called on China to hand over the five men for trial in the steel city of Pittsburgh and said the United States would use "all the means that are available to us" should Beijing refuse.
President Barack Obama's administration "will not tolerate actions by any nation that seek to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition," Holder told reporters.
"This case should serve as a wake-up call to the seriousness of the ongoing cyber threat," Holder told reporters.
The grand jury indicted each of the five - Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu and Gu Chunhui - on 31 counts, which each carry penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors said that the five officers belonged to Unit 61398 of the People's Liberation Army.
A report last year by security firm Mandiant said that the unit had thousands of workers operating out of a nondescript, 12-story building on the outskirts of Shanghai where they pilfer intellectual property and government secrets.
China summoned US ambassador Max Baucus over Washington's indictment of the five Chinese military officers , state media said Tuesday.
Chinese assistant foreign minister Zheng Zeguang lodged a "solemn representation" with Baucus on Monday night, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the foreign ministry.
The hacking led to US job losses in the steel, solar and other industries, US officials say.