China's state-owned sector told to cut ties with US consulting firms

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - China has told its state-owned enterprises to sever links with American consulting firms just days after the United States charged five Chinese military officers with hacking US companies, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

China's action, which targets companies like McKinsey & Company and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), stems from fears the firms are providing trade secrets to the US government, the FT reported, citing unnamed sources close to senior Chinese leaders.

Spokeswomen for McKinsey and Bain & Company did not return calls seeking comment. Spokeswomen for BCG and Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company) were not immediately able to comment.

The companies have large operations in China, the FT reported. McKinsey, BCG and Strategy& have Chinese state enterprises as clients, the newspaper said.

China warned this week it would retaliate if Washington pressed ahead with allegations the Chinese officers hacked into US nuclear, metal and solar companies, including Alcoa Inc , Allegheny Technologies Inc, United States Steel Corp, Toshiba Corp unit Westinghouse Electric Co, the US subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG and a steelworkers' union.

Officials in Washington have argued for years that cyber espionage is a top national security concern.

The May 19 indictment was the first criminal hacking charge the United States has filed against specific foreign officials. It follows a steady increase in public criticism and private confrontation, including at a summit last year between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the wake of the charges, Chinese media labelled the US government a "high-level hooligan," while officials in Beijing accused Washington of "double standards" on issues of cyber spying.

China also said it would investigate providers of IT products and services to guard "national security" and "economic and social development." It also banned new central government computers from using Windows 8, Microsoft Corp's latest operating system.