- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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.

Gen. Liang said in response to a reporter’s question: “I can hardly agree with the proposition that cyberattacks directed to the United States are directly coming from China.”

He then insisted that, during earlier talks, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta “also agreed on my point that we cannot attribute all the cyberattacks to United States to China.”

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.

Gen. Liang said he and Mr. Panetta discussed ways their countries can “jointly work” to boost cybersecurity, although no details were mentioned and the technical issues will be left to “experts.”

Mr. Panetta then noted that both the United States and China have developed advanced technology in cyberwarfare and that other countries and computer hackers are behind attacks against both nations.

“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.

If Mr. Panetta doesn’t believe Gen. Liang’s assertions, “Panetta should be calling Liang out on it because Panetta knows Liang is lying for his country,” the official said.

“If Panetta believes Liang, he should know better and he is lying to himself and enabling [China].”

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.

Story Continues →