Hagel Blames China for Cyber Attacks While Pushing Talks

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accused China of waging cyber attacks, in comments made before a gathering of senior Asian officials that included members of the Chinese military.

“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” Hagel said in his first major policy address on Asia today at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security conference in Singapore.

U.S. officials and the Defense Department have blamed China previously for cyber attacks. Hagel’s public comments today came as Chinese officials looked on -- and one questioned the U.S. commitment to improved relations.

While the U.S. claims its military pivot toward Asia isn’t a move against China, “China is not convinced,” Major-General Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science within the People’s Liberation Army, said at the conference.

China’s reported attempts to obtain sensitive U.S. military data as well as commercial intellectual property through electronic espionage have been highlighted repeatedly by Defense Department and White House officials. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said in March that China is waging a “large scale” computer campaign to steal trade secrets.

Pentagon Report

The Pentagon, in its latest annual report on China’s military capabilities, said last month that China’s military has targeted U.S. government computers with intrusions that seek sensitive data.

The incursions “appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the Pentagon said. The information sought could be used to bolster China’s defense and technology industries and to support military planning. It didn’t say U.S. weapons programs have been compromised.

Chinese officials would like to exchange views with Hagel at the meeting, particularly on cybersecurity, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing yesterday.

Cyber attacks “are not just a military threat,” said Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, in Singapore today. “They can affect our daily lives by targeting critical infrastructure, energy grids, hospitals and so on.”

Welcome Rise

Even as he singled out China for cyber attacks, Hagel said he welcomed China’s rise as a global power and sought closer military-to-military relations. He said he plans to host China’s defense minister at the Pentagon later this year.

“The United States welcomes and supports a prosperous and successful China that contributes to regional and global problem solving,” Hagel said.

“While the U.S. and China will have our differences -- on human rights, Syria and regional security issues in Asia -- the key is for these differences to be addressed on the basis of a continuous and respectful dialogue,” Hagel said. “It also requires building trust and reducing the risk of miscalculation, particularly between our militaries.”

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