Cyber, regional defense issues to top upcoming U.S.-China dialogue

Wanquan replaced former Chinese defense chief Gen. Liang Guanglie when Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in March. 

The Chinese general is only the second defense minister to visit the Pentagon in person in over a decade. 

Aside from cyber issues, Hagel and Wanquan will also tee up issues ranging from North Korea's nuclear threat to ongoing disputes with U.S. allies in the Pacific over disputed waterways in the South China Sea, according a senior defense official.  

While the Pacific Command visit is clearly geared toward finding common ground on shared security issues in the region, Beijing specifically requested a visit to Northern Command during the trip, the defense official told reporters Friday. 

The Colorado Springs visit will allow Wanquan to observe, first-hand, various humanitarian and disaster relief operations and strategies being run out of Northern Command, the official said. 

The two defense leaders will also discuss the fallout from China's supposed intervention to block extradition of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to the United States on charges of espionage. 

Snowden, who illegally leaked classified details of NSA domestic intelligence programs earlier this year, was in Hong Kong seeking asylum from American authorities. 

During his time in Hong Kong, Snowden leaked details of NSA operations against Chinese targets to local news agencies, before he was moved out of the city to Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum. 

The pending visit to the command and the Pentagon is part of a renewed effort between Washington and Beijing to "sustain positive momentum" in the sometimes difficult relations between the two world powers, the official added. 

Relations were near a stand-still during the last top-level meeting between defense leaders of both countries, due to accusations and counterclaims by both countries over each others' growing cyber warfare arsenals.

At that meeting last May at the Pentagon, fomer Guanglie met with then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to diffuse those growing tensions. 

At the time, Guanglie fired back at U.S. accusations of cyberattacks being launched by Beijing against American military and corporate networks. 

"I can hardly agree with [that] proposition," Liang told reporters last May, adding that Panetta agreed "that we cannot attribute all the cyberattacks in the United States to China."

That said, Guanglie and Panetta at the time agreed to increase cooperation on cyber warfare and security issues going forward.