Technology theft and other unfair business practices originating from China are costing the American economy more than $57 billion a year, White House officials believe, and they expect that figure to grow.

Yet an investigation by NPR and the PBS television show Frontline into why three successive administrations failed to stop cyberhacking from China found an unlikely obstacle for the government — the victims themselves.

Wendy Cutler, who was a veteran negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, says it wasn’t just that U.S. businesses were hesitant to come forward in specific cases. She says businesses didn’t want the trade office to take “any strong action.”

“We are not as effective if we don’t have the U.S. business community supporting us,” she says. “Looking back on it, in retrospect, I think we probably should have been more active and more responsive. We kind of lost the big picture of what was really happening.”

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By boon