US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Friday hosted Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) for talks on military ties between the two countries, including the delicate issue of cybersecurity, officials said.
With a Chinese delegation in the US capital this week for annual strategic and economic talks, Yang held a 45 minute meeting with Hagel at the Pentagon “to discuss the United States-China military relationship,” the US Department of Defense said in a statement.
Hagel “affirmed the importance of the inaugural cyber discussion” in this week’s talks, it said, amid tensions over US accusations of Chinese cyberhacking against US companies.
The two agreed on the importance of building a dialogue on security issues, including the delicate subject of cyberespionage, officials said.
The subject of cybersecurity came up “briefly” in Friday’s talks, with Yang saying China had suffered from digital intrusions as well and both sides agreeing on the need “to work together,” a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
Discussions on cyberissues this week in the annual talks will help “increase practical cooperation in cyberspace” and build “enhanced cooperation on regional security issues of concern to both of us, including North Korea,” the Pentagon said.
Hagel also welcomed this week’s day-long security dialogue that had expanded to include nuclear policy and missile defense issues, it said.
Hagel, a former senator, and Yang, the former Chinese ambassador to Washington, “discussed their shared history and friendship that stretches back many years,” as the two knew each other in their previous positions.
While Yang, who focuses on foreign policy, stopped at the Pentagon, China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang (汪洋), who concentrates on economics, paid a visit to Congress on Friday to meet several senior lawmakers, including US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
US military leaders say defense ties have improved over the last year, with the Chinese navy due to take part in a major US-led exercise this summer. China cut off all military contacts in 2010 over a US arms sale to Taiwan.
Hagel told Yang he looked forward to holding talks with his counterpart, China’s minister of national defense, General Chang Wanquan (常萬全), who is due to visit the Pentagon next month.
The US military’s top officer, General Martin Dempsey, visited China in April.
A report from US digital security firm Mandiant earlier this year said a large-scale hacking effort against US industry, including defense firms, could be traced to a Chinese military unit in Shanghai.
China has vehemently rejected the allegations.
However, Washington’s credibility on the issue suffered a setback after leaks revealed the US National Security Agency was conducting massive electronic surveillance of telephone records and Internet traffic.
The intelligence contractor behind the leak, Edward Snowden, initially fled to Hong Kong and then traveled on to Moscow.
In his talks with the Chinese delegation this week, US President Barack Obama expressed his disappointment and concern that China did not hand over Snowden as requested by Washington.