Trump on Reports Chinese Hackers Are Trying to Steal Vaccine Research: ‘What Else is New?’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 12, 2020 | 3:56am EDT
Dr. Anthony Fauci shows President Trump around the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Md. in March. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci shows President Trump around the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Md. in March. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Asked Monday about reports that Chinese state hackers are trying to steal U.S. research into coronavirus vaccines and treatments, President Trump, with barely-concealed contempt, asked, “What else is new?” before again criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the deadly outbreak.

“What else is new, with China?” Trump asked in response to the question by Reuters journalist Steve Holland during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. “What else is new? Tell me.”

“I’m not happy with China,” he continued.

“They should have stopped this [outbreak] at the source. They could have stopped it right at the source. So now you’re telling me they’re hacking. So, I’ll just say this Steve: What else is new?  We’re watching it very closely.”

The New York Times reported at the weekend that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were preparing to issue a public warning that China’s “hackers and spies are working to steal American research” relating to a vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The report said a draft of the warning stated that China was seeking “valuable intellectual property and public health data through illicit means related to vaccines, treatments and testing.”

Beijing reacted derisively to the claim, contending that China leads the world in vaccine research and development – with the implication that it therefore has no need to steal others’ secrets. (“China leads vaccine R&D, no need to steal,” reads a headline in the CCP organ, People’s Daily.)

“China is a staunch upholder of cyber security and a victim of cyber-attacks. We firmly oppose and fight all kinds of cyber-attacks conducted by hackers,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press briefing.

“We are leading the world in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research,” he added. “It is immoral to target China with rumors and slanders in the absence of any evidence.”

(Zhao is the ministry spokesman who in tweets last March promoted a conspiracy theory accusing the U.S. Army of introducing the coronavirus to Wuhan in the fall of 2019.)

The Global Times, also CCP-controlled, quoted a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences research fellow as saying such “ridiculous” U.S. accusations could only harm existing bilateral cooperation.

China is fully able to research and develop COVID-19 vaccines independently, it cited the academic, Lü Xiang, as saying.

Recently, the DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a joint technical alert about cyber-thieves targeting organizations involved in national and international responses to the pandemic, including “pharmaceutical companies, medical research organizations, and universities.”

“[A]ctors may seek to obtain intelligence on national and international healthcare policy, or acquire sensitive data on COVID-19-related research,” it said.

That alert did not identify the perpetrators, but called them “advanced persistent threat (APT) groups,” a term used in the cybersecurity industry for sophisticated hacking threats linked to leading suspects like China, Russia and Iran.

Reopening the trade deal? ‘Not interested’

In a follow-up question at the White House press conference, Holland asked about Chinese media reports saying that Beijing would like to reopen negotiations on the U.S.-China trade deal, to get more beneficial terms for China.

“Is this something that you’d be interested in doing?” he asked the president.

“No, not at all,” Trump replied. “Not even a little bit, no. I’m not interested.”

Trump said he had heard too that China wants to reopen the trade talks, “to make it a better deal for them.” He then repeated his criticism of predecessors’ handling of the trade relationship with China.

President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He sign the U.S.-China phase one trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He sign the U.S.-China phase one trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“China’s been taking advantage of the United States for many, many years, for decades, because we had people at this position right here where I’m standing, sitting right in that office, the Oval Office, that allowed that to happen,” he charged.

“No, I’m not interested in that,” Trump added. “Let’s see if they live up to the deal that they signed.”

Global Times attributed the impetus on China’s side to reopen trade talks to what it called “a tsunami of anger among Chinese trade insiders” over U.S. attacks on China over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in Wuhan late last year.

The “phase one” deal, signed in Washington last January, suspended and reduced some U.S. tariffs on China but left in place for the meantime tariffs on some $250 billion in Chinese imports.

In exchange, China pledged to buy more U.S. goods and services, worth at least $200 billion, over the next two years. Beijing also agreed to address some U.S. intellectual property concerns.

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