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US and China in cyber-threat talks
AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Leon Panetta acknowledged that not all cyber-attacks against the US came from China (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The US and China have agreed to work together on cyber-security issues to avoid miscalculations that could lead to future crises.
After a meeting with General Liang Guanglie, China's minister of national defence, US defence secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that not all cyber-attacks against the US came from his country and said that since both nations had advanced cyber capabilities, it was important to develop better co-operation.
"It's true, as the general pointed out, that obviously there are other countries, actors, others involved in some of the attacks that both of our countries receive," Mr Panetta said after the meeting at the Pentagon, the first visit by a Chinese defence minister to the US since 2003.
He continued: "But because the United States and China have developed technological capabilities in this arena, 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."
The general offered a vigorous defence of his country, saying through an interpreter that "I can hardly agree with the proposition that the cyber-attacks directed to the United States are directly coming from China ... We cannot attribute all of the cyber-attacks (against the) United States to China".
But just six months ago, senior US intelligence officials for the first time publicly accused China of systematically stealing American high-tech data for its own national economic gain.
It was the most forceful and detailed airing of US allegations against Beijing after years of private complaints, and it signalled the opening salvo of a broad diplomatic push to combat cyber-attacks that originate in China.
The general said he and Mr Panetta talked about ways to strengthen cyber-security, but they were leaving the details to the experts.
Cyber-security was just one of the many issues discussed by the two leaders during their meeting, but it is also one of a number of contentious topics that rattle the often rocky relationship between the two nations.
"The US needs to start laying the groundwork for better understanding by the Chinese of what we expect from them in cyber-space," said James Lewis, a cyber-security expert who has met Chinese officials and scholars for informal discussions. "We want to figure out some way to get some understanding in place before something bad happens."