The United States has charged five Chinese military officials with cyberspying on U.S. companies.
"The Washington Post" and other media outlets reported that the five officials are members of China's People's Liberation Army.
The five were identified as Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the charges on May 19, saying that they were the first of their kind against state actors and should serve as "a wake-up call."
"Success in the international marketplace should be based solely on a company's ability to innovate and compete, not on a sponsor government's ability to spy and steal business secrets," Holder said.
A report by former U.S. officials estimated that in 2013 hacking cost the United States' economy some $300 billion.
The alleged targets of the Chinese hackers were Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Co., Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel Corp., the United Steelworkers Union, and SolarWorld.
China's Foreign Ministry called the charges "fabricated" and added that the "U.S. accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd."
"The Chinese government, the Chinese military, and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cybertheft of trade secrets," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
The security firm Mandiant said in a report in February 2013 that China had created a military-linked unit dedicated to stealing intellectual property and government secrets overseas.
The report said the special unit is located in a nondescript 12-story building on the outskirts of Shanghai and had already stolen data from more than 140 organizations.
The report said the hacking group known as APT1 – "Advanced Persistent Threat" – was believed to be a branch of Unit 61398 of the People's Liberation Army.
The White House said the United States remains committed to a productive relationship with China, and that it wants to work with Beijing to prevent cybersecurity breaches from continuing.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP