Hagel warns China on cyber attacks
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel has issued a stern warning to China over cyber attacks - while holding out hope for an improved military relationship with Beijing.
But he was met with immediate scepticism from the Chinese delegation in the audience, who questioned America's role in the Pacific.
Speaking at a security conference in Singapore that he helped to form more than a decade ago, Mr Hagel said: "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."
While he is not the first US official publicly to blame China for computer-based attacks that steal data from US government and corporate networks, he delivered the rebuke in China's backyard, with members of Beijing's government in the audience.
His comments triggered a wry response from Major General Yao Yunzhu, director of the Centre for China-America Defence Relations, at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, who challenged him to better explain America's intentions in its building up of the military across the region.
"Thank you for mentioning China several times," she told Mr Hagel, minutes after he concluded his remarks, and began taking questions from the audience. As an audible murmur and some quiet chuckles rose from the audience, she added that America's new shift to the Pacific has been widely interpreted as an "attempt to counter China's rising influence, and to offset the increasing military capabilities of the Chinese PLA. However, China is not convinced."
She asked Mr Hagel how he can assure China that the increased military deployments to the region are part of an effort to build a more positive relationship with Beijing. "That's really the whole point behind closer military-to-military relationships," he replied. "We don't want miscalculations and misunderstandings and misinterpretations. And the only way you do that is you talk to each other."
He said the US welcomes a strong and emerging China that takes on responsibilities for security in the region, and that Beijing and Washington have to be inclusive and direct with each other. "I think we've made continued progress," he said. "And we'll make more progress."
In his speech, Mr Hagel said the US is determined to work closely with China and other nations to establish appropriate standards for behaviour in cyberspace.
And the US will also be looking to China for help in resolving ongoing problems with North Korea, which in recent months has ratcheted up tensions in the region with a series of rocket launches, an underground nuclear test and threats of nuclear strikes against the US and its allies.