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story.lead_photo.caption A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks by the Microsoft office building in Beijing, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The Biden administration and Western allies formally blamed China on Monday for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software and asserted that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware and other illicit cyber operations. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING (AP) — China on Tuesday rejected an accusation by Washington and its Western allies that Beijing is to blame for a hack of the Microsoft Exchange email system and complained Chinese entities are victims of damaging U.S. cyberattacks.

A foreign ministry spokesman demanded Washington drop charges announced Monday against four Chinese nationals accused of working with the Ministry of State Security to try to steal U.S. trade secrets, technology and disease research.

The announcement that the Biden administration and European allies formally blame Chinese government-linked hackers for ransomware attacks increased pressure over long- running complaints against Beijing but included no sanctions.

“The United States ganged up with its allies to make unwarranted accusations against Chinese cybersecurity,” said the spokesman, Zhao Lijian. “This was made up out of thin air and confused right and wrong. It is purely a smear and suppression with political motives.”

“China will never accept this,” Zhao said, though he gave no indication of possible retaliation.

China is a leader in cyberwarfare research along with the United States and Russia, but Beijing denies accusations that Chinese hackers steal trade secrets and technology. Security experts say the military and security ministry also sponsor hackers outside the government.

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