Chinese General With Dempsey Compares Cyber-Attack to Nuke

China wants to work with the U.S. on cybersecurity because the effects of an Internet attack could be as serious as a nuclear bomb, a Chinese general said at a briefing with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With the Internet so difficult to control, the U.S. and China must boost coordination to shore up cybersecurity, Fang Fenghui, chairman of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff, said with Martin Dempsey yesterday. The U.S. is committed to a “better, deeper, more enduring relationship” with China, Dempsey said.

Ties between the U.S. and China have been strained by allegations by U.S. security company Mandiant Corp. that China’s army may be behind cyberattacks on companies worldwide. Dempsey is on a visit to China to seek closer dialogue with China’s military, discuss North Korea’s nuclear program and ease Chinese concerns over the Obama administration’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific.

“If Internet security cannot be controlled, it’s not an exaggeration to say the effects could be no less than a nuclear bomb,” Fang said at the briefing with Dempsey.“The Internet is open to everyone and attacks can be launched from anywhere.”

China opposes cyberattacks and is itself a victim of them, Fang said. Chinese officials rejected Mandiant’s report in February and have said they want to protect peace in cyberspace.

Kerry’s Visit

Dempsey met Chinese President Xi Jinping today, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Xi said Dempsey’s visit will advance military ties, and “hailed the progress of military-to-military exchanges and cooperation between the two countries,” Xinhua said.

Dempsey’s trip to Beijing comes after Secretary of State John Kerry visited earlier this month and urged Chinese leaders to exert more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. In testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee April 17, Dempsey said the North Korea situation would be “on the top of the agenda” for his visit.

Fang said China is firmly opposed to North Korean nuclear tests. The regime of Kim Jong Un has carried out three such tests, including one in February, and a fourth test is a possibility, Fang said.

Dempsey stopped in South Korea for three hours on April 21 before traveling to Beijing, Yonhap News Agency reported. The U.S. is hoping China will use its standing as the North’s most important political and economic ally to back down from bellicose rhetoric in recent weeks.

Stepped-Up Contacts

The visit is part of stepped-up contacts between China and the U.S. this month. The Foreign Ministry said last week that China’s North Korea envoy, Wu Dawei, will visit Washington this week for talks. At the Foreign Ministry yesterday, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will also visit China this week.

China and the U.S. must forge a new type of military bond, Fang said. He struck a different tone than Chinese state media, which have said the U.S. strategic pivot toward the region could embolden U.S. allies such as Japan in territorial disputes.

“The Pacific Ocean is wide enough to accommodate us both,” Fang said. The two sides will hold anti-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia, he said.

Dempsey responded by saying that the U.S. seeks to be a stabilizing influence in Asia and the administration wants to be more engaged “after a decade where we probably weren’t interested enough.”

— With assistance by Michael Forsythe

(Updates with Dempsey meeting Xi in 6th paragraph.)
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