China's military chief flatly denied on Monday his country's participation in a hacking scheme targeting U.S. businesses, while also warning that missteps in the western Pacific could lead to "a severe impact" on security in that region.
Gen. Chang Wanquan, the Chinese defense minister and state councilor, met with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Monday morning. They discussed the two countries' military interaction at a time when U.S. foreign policy is supposed to shift its sights to southeast Asia. The two leaders came from a closed-door meeting where they likely discussed policies toward North Korea as well as Egypt, currently roiled in internal conflict.
At a press conference with reporters, Chang denied reports from private security firm Madiant earlier this year that a secretive Chinese military unit is actively hacking U.S. businesses to steal blueprints, pricing documents and other information.
"The Chinese military never supported any hacker activities," said Chang through an interpreter. "It is obvious that the Chinese government's position is to take peaceful use of cyberspace."
The general said China opposes "any kind of arms race" within the cyber domain, as well as taking information technology with any kind of hostility.
"We oppose of taking advantage of the technological advantage to weaken other parties' sovereign control in this domain," he said. "We oppose any kind of double standard in this domain."
China is one of the primary victims of cyber intrusion, Chang added, and is constantly under threat from these attacks.
Solving this issue will require continued exploration and coordination with the U.S., he said, "rather than ungrounded accusation or suspicion."
Chang's press conference with Hagel comes at a time of heightened relations with the Chinese as the U.S. draws down from land wars in the Middle East, and with it the kind of suspicion that accompanies superpower relationships.
China has stepped up military development in recent years, including launching its first Soviet-era aircraft carrier and landing its first jets on board. Its increasingly expeditionary Navy has been involved in a series of skirmishes with Japanese and other regional neighbors over resources and territorial disputes.
President Barack Obama has made his newly coined "rebalance to the Pacific" a hallmark of his second term, though it remains unclear precisely how many U.S. assets have already been directed there.
The U.S. sent a second squadron of MV-22 Ospreys to its Marine Corps base in Okinawa, and has plans to deploy more Marines to Australia and Navy ships to the entire region.
Chang said on Monday that the security situation in the Pacific is closely linked with worldwide peace and stability, saying that there are "hotspots of sensitive issues" which in some instances are becoming more heated and more sensitive.
"The Chinese people always have their love of peace," he said. "We insist related disputes be solved through dialogue and negotiation."
However he warned that "nobody should fantasize that China would barter away our core interests, and no one should underestimate our will, and our determination in defending our territory, sovereignty and maritime rights."
Any unwanted action or provocation that further complicates the situation is highly irresponsible and will not lead to a favorable result," Chang said.
China and the U.S. have publicly stressed their cooperation to enhance military engagement between the two countries. The U.S. has invited China to participate in RIMPAC, a massive naval exercise that will take place next summer, and Hagel will attend a meeting next year among Southeast Asian defense ministers.
The U.S. and China have also established a cyber security working group to address ongoing issues between the two nations.