WASHINGTON (AP) -- A U.S. congressional advisory panel said Thursday that Chinese spies are aggressively stealing American secrets to use in building Beijing's military and economic strength.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission also said in its annual report to lawmakers that Beijing is building a navy that could block the U.S. military from getting to the region if fighting should break out between China and Taiwan, the self-governing island off China's southeastern coast that China claims as its own.
The report follows President Barack Obama's visit this week to China, where he had extensive talks with President Hu Jintao. The commission tends to take a tougher stance on China than either Obama or his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama wants to nurture ties with a country the United States needs to deal with some of the world's toughest crises, including nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea, climate change and global economic recovery.
The commission, set up by Congress in 2000 to advise, investigate and report on U.S.-China affairs, said U.S. officials believe Chinese spying is "growing in scale, intensity and sophistication."
"China is the most aggressive country conducting espionage against the United States," the report said.
Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, called the spying allegations "baseless, unwarranted and irresponsible."
He called the commission's suggestion that China's navy is being built up to challenge the United States in the Pacific a "Cold War fantasy." Beijing's military spending, he said, is only a fraction of Washington's.
More generally, Wang accused the commission of recycling old, unproven allegations and issuing an annual report "aimed at misleading the American public."
The report said China was the origin of much of the rise in malicious computer attacks against the United States in 2009.
China's increased targeting of U.S. government and defense computer systems, the report said, could "destroy critical infrastructure, disrupt commerce and banking systems and compromise sensitive defense and military data."
Among the commission's recommendations are for Congress to review the U.S. ability to meet the "rising challenge" of Chinese spying and to fend off computer attacks.
Congress, the commission said, also should urge the Obama administration to push harder for China to reduce the number of missiles and forces opposite Taiwan.