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Su Bin, shown in an image from court documents. In September, a Canadian judge ordered Mr. Su extradited, but he remains in Vancouver pending an appeal to be heard later this year

A nationalist newspaper that acts as a mouthpiece for hard line elements in China's Communist Party has leapt to the defence of Su Bin, the man who admitted working with Chinese hackers to steal U.S. fighter jet secrets.

If Mr. Su did help provide China with sensitive schematics on cutting-edge aircraft like the F-22 and F-35, "we are willing to show our gratitude and respect for his service to our country," says an editorial in the Global Times published online late Thursday.

"On the secret battlefield without gunpowder, China needs special agents to gather secrets from the U.S. As for Su, be he recruited by the Chinese government or driven by economic benefits, we should give him credit for what he is doing for the country."

The editorial is headlined: "Su Bin deserves respect whether guilty or innocent."

The newspaper then lashes out at the U.S., which it accuses of similar crimes through a reference to information revealed by Edward Snowden.

"The whistleblower is wanted by the U.S. government, which refuses to reflect on its behaviour, but keeps criticizing China for espionage without solid proof," the Global Times writes. It calls on China to "uncover Washington's brazen hypocrisy with concrete evidence."

But the newspaper's heroic portrayal of Mr. Su is a remarkable contradiction of official Chinese rhetoric denying the country engages in cyber espionage.

"The Chinese government are opposed to and have not been engaged in any forms of network hacking," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in January.

That statement came after The Globe and Mail revealed court documents identifying two Chinese military officers as co-conspirators with Mr. Su.

Mr. Su was living in Vancouver when the hacking took place, but consented to extradition in a plea-bargain deal with U.S. authorities that capped his maximum sentence at five years.

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