The United States government is considering imposing economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals that it believes have benefitted from the cybertheft of US trade secrets, according to a Washington Post report.

It's still undecided as to exactly what form the sanctions will take, but "a final call is expected soon---perhaps even within the next two weeks," according to several administration officials quoted off the record. The sanctions are primarily aimed at firms that made use of the data from Chinese-based hackers who sources say have "stolen everything from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code to confidential negotiating positions of energy companies."

The sanctions could range from barring transactions with accused firms and individuals, through to freezing the assets of accused companies. It's been pointed out that although US government cyberthefts originate from many countries, such as Russia and Turkey, China is "by far the most active." The FBI said that economic espionage cases surged 53 percent in the past year, and that China accounted for most of that. The Chinese Government has repeatedly denied any involvement in the activity.

The sanctions would mark the first use of an executive order signed by President Obama in April that gives the administration authority to impose penalties on individuals and entities overseas who engage in destructive attacks or commercial espionage in cyberspace.

Speaking about the order at the time, the President said:

[we are] giving notice to those who pose significant threats to our security or economy by damaging our critical infrastructure, disrupting or hijacking our computer networks, or stealing the trade secrets of American companies or the personal information of American citizens for profit. From now on, we have the power to freeze their assets, make it harder for them to do business with U.S. companies, and limit their ability to profit from their misdeeds.

The report comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his first state visit in September amid heighten tensions between the two countries. China has repeatedly clashed with the US over the former's territorial disputes and aggressive actions in the South China Sea. If these sanctions do come into effect, they would likely damage Sino-American relations even further.