Australia didn't blame China for parliament hack in case it upset trade relations – report

So much for the public deterrence value of attribution

Australian snoops concluded that China was to blame for a series of hacks on its parliament and leading political parties – but kept it quiet for fear of angering the Middle Kingdom, according to reports.

The February cyber-attack saw Aussie MPs told to reset their passwords, with officials publicly insisting that no data had been accessed, while giving noticeably few details about what had happened and why.

Yet, according to the Reuters newswire, the culprit was the Chinese state.

Two of the five talkative people spoken to by the newswire said that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs ordered secrecy over the findings of an official investigation into the parliamentary hack "in order to avoid disrupting trade relations with Beijing".

China's Foreign Ministry told Reuters that Australia needed to meet it "halfway, and do more to benefit mutual trust and co-operation" while issuing a Russian-style denial that referred to "creating rumors and smearing others, pinning labels on people indiscriminately".

The Pacific continent-country counts China as its largest trading partner, absorbing around a third of China's total exports every year.

As well as targeting the local parliament, the hackers also broke into the systems of the two ruling coalition parties, the Liberals and the Nationals, and the opposition Labour party. Documents viewed by the Chinese reportedly included emails between staffers, and political policy papers about tax and foreign affairs.

Britain reportedly sent a team of investigators to Canberra to help the Aussies.

In tech trade terms, Australia has a rocky relationship with China. Flagship firm Huawei and its sister Chinese firm ZTE were both blocked last year from the country's 5G rollout, on the grounds that they were "likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government".

Diplomatically, Australia treads the fine line between confronting Chinese expansionism and encouraging trade relations, regularly sailing warships through international waters in the South China Sea that China claims as its own territory. ®

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