It smells like bullshit in China's PR shop. Yesterday, China's state-run news agency said that criminals — not the government — stole data from the US Office of Personnel Management. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that China claims to have arrested those criminal hackers back in September. This is a bad story for the US government. If the OPM culprits were thieves and not government-affiliated spies, the US looks even more inept than it already did. Getting data hijacked in a blisteringly sophisticated digital war between superpowers sounds better than getting burgled by randoms from half a world away.
This is a very good story for the Chinese government. Not only is it blameless in the hacks, it also put a stop to them, imprisoning nefarious citizens for their unscrupulous treatment of America, at the bequest of America. How brotherly. Peace! Love! No sanctions!
It's also the most whoa if true thing I've heard in my life. There's no reason to believe China here.
It's possible that Chinese hackers went mercenary and broke into OPM to sell the data to the highest bidder. OPM's hackers stole personal information from 22 million US employees and their families, from social security numbers and fingerprints to detailed histories with drugs and alcohol. The data trove is a blackmailer's playground, and plenty of non-government-sponsored criminal rings could want it. There is absolutely no supporting evidence to suggest that's true, though, besides taking China's word for it.
It's more plausible that these hackers were selling to the Chinese government, trained by the Chinese government, or straight-up working for the Chinese government. Remember that the Chinese government has a rich history of denying its involvement with hacks. Over the past year, China and its state-affiliated spies and hackers have been accused of reading the Obama Administration's emails, attacking anti-censorship websites, and recently hacking Australia's Bureau of Meteorology computer.