US, China pledge cooperation on cybersecurity

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie on Monday agreed to include cyberwarfare into the slate of potential areas of cooperation between the two global powers. 

The meeting was the first time in nearly a decade that a Chinese defense minister has visited the United States in an official capacity. 

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That said, DOD was coordinating plans with Beijing for Panetta to visit the country sometime this year, according to a senior defense official. 

"It's extremely important that we work together to develop ways to avoid any miscalculation or misperception that could lead to crisis in this area," Panetta told reporters during a joint press conference with Liang at the Pentagon. 

Aside from increasing collaboration in cyberspace, both countries decided to expand existing cooperative efforts in humanitarian and disaster relief missions, as well as counterpiracy operations, according to both defense chiefs. 

While the newfound common ground between Washington and Beijing on cybersecurity is promising, Liang voiced his disagreement with recent claims that the majority of cyberattacks against U.S. targets emanate from China.

"I can hardly agree with [that] proposition," Liang told reporters on Monday. "And during the meeting, Secretary Panetta also agreed on my point that we cannot attribute all the cyberattacks in the United States to China."

However, Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander confirmed in March that a cyberattack against U.S. Internet security firm RSA was carried out by China. 

RSA, which provides encryption software to the Pentagon and companies like PayPal, had its security software and codes stolen via a Chinese-led cyberattack, Alexander told Congress that month. 

Those breaches have prompted some on Capitol Hill to demand additional measures be taken to check China's growing aggressiveness in cyberspace.

House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) introduced a bill in April calling for increased U.S. defense and intelligence capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Those additional capabilities would be targeted squarely at China's military, according to Forbes's bill. 

Beijing's "continued lack of transparency, its regard for the United States as its principal strategic adversary, and its continued expansion of its military, intelligence, and economic reach fosters uncertainty in its long-term intentions," the Virginia Republican wrote in the legislation. 

To that end, the United States must employ "clear and overwhelming counterintelligence capabilities and guidelines" designed to prevent and disrupt those kinds of breaches, Forbes said.

While both sides claimed progress in the area of cyberwarfare, Panetta and Liang refused to discuss the White House's involvement with Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and its reconsideration of supplying warplanes to Taiwan during the bilateral talks. 

The White House's stance on those two issues are part of an effort by the administration to take a harder line against China. 

Those efforts are partially designed to counter presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s criticism of the administration on China ahead of November's presidential elections. 

On the issue of Taiwanese arms sales, the senior defense official said Monday that the administration's position was clear and no further discussions would be needed. 

The official did not elaborate as to why the Chen case would not be brought up during the talks, except to say the issue was not on the list of discussion topics.