The US government yesterday claimed that hackers backed by the Chinese government are attempting to steal the work of American researchers looking into coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
A statement issued jointly by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department's cyber division said it was investigating "cyber actors" linked to China and "non-traditional collectors" who were targeting researchers.
"These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with Covid-19-related research," the statement read. "The potential theft of this information jeopardises delivery of secure, effective and efficient treatment options."
The statement urged relevant researchers to "maintain dedicated cybersecurity and insider threat practices to prevent surreptitious review or theft of Covid-19-related material". There was no immediate response from the Chinese government to the claim.
The decision to go public with such an allegation intensified growing tensions between Donald Trump's administration and China over the pandemic.
The president has been fiercely critical of China's handling of the outbreak, saying the virus should have been contained and alleging a lack of transparency about its early spread.
Such rhetoric looks set to escalate as the US election in November approaches, with Mr Trump seeking to paint rival Joe Biden as weak on China.
China has already been accused by the US of failing to share vital information about Covid-19 with scientists globally. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has said no samples of the virus found in China had been made available.
There was also disagreement over whether the virus emerged from a laboratory in the city of Wuhan or a food market there. The US accused China of blocking access to the laboratory and of not sufficiently co-operating on investigations into the origin of the virus.