Aggressive Chinese cyberespionage and digital warfare capabilities were major topics this week during talks between senior U.S. and Chinese defense officials.
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie said Tuesday that China is not behind the relentless wave of cyberattacks against the United States, a comment challenged by U.S. national security officials.
In following what U.S. officials say is a “denial and deception” campaign, Gen. Liang said that China, too, is a victim of cyberattacks and all nations have an interest in stopping electronic attacks like those that use computers to steal money from bank accounts.
“But because the United States and China have developed technological capabilities in this arena, it’s extremely important that we work together to develop ways to avoid any miscalculation or misperception that could lead to crisis in this area,” Mr. Panetta said.
He was referring to the danger of a devastating future cyberwar that likely would involve crippling cyberstrikes to knock out military and civilian networks and infrastructure controlled by them.
Although less confident about cooperation, Mr. Panetta noted that he appreciated the general’s “willingness to see if we can develop an approach to having exchanges in this arena in order to develop better cooperation” when it comes to cyberattacks.
A U.S. official familiar with cyberwarfare capabilities said it appears the defense secretary was letting the Chinese military off the hook for its massive data theft and cyberwar activities as part of an effort to try to befriend Beijing’s powerful military.
Pro-China officials in the Obama administration apparently influenced Mr. Panetta to follow a script that says “any action to look out for U.S. strategic interests that even slightly upsets the partnership [is viewed] as ‘too escalating,’ ” the official said.
According to a Pentagon source, Chinese military visitors, as in past meetings, declined to discuss the People’s Liberation Army’s cyberwarfare capabilities during the meetings this week.