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Pentagon chief, Chinese official discuss military ties

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi speaks  on July 11, 2013 at a hotel in Washington, DC
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi speaks at a dinner hosted by the US-China Business Council (USCBC) and National Committee on US-China Relations (NCUSCR) on July 11, 2013 at a hotel in Washington, DC. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel on Friday hosted Jiechi

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel on Friday hosted Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi for talks on military ties between the two countries, including the delicate issue of cyber security, officials said.

With a Chinese delegation in the US capital this week for annual strategic and economic talks, Yang held a 45-minute meeting with Hagel at the Pentagon "to discuss the United States-China military relationship," the Defense Department said in a statement.

Hagel "affirmed the importance of the inaugural cyber discussion" in this week's talks, it said, amid tensions over US accusations of Chinese cyber hacking against American companies.

The two agreed on the importance of building a dialogue on security issues, including the delicate subject of cyber espionage, officials said.

The subject of cyber security came up "briefly" in Friday's talks, with Yang saying China had suffered from digital intrusions as well and both sides agreeing on the need "to work together," a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

Discussions on cyber issues this week in the annual talks will help "increase practical cooperation in cyberspace" and build "enhanced cooperation on regional security issues of concern to both of us, including North Korea," the Pentagon said.

Hagel also welcomed this week's day-long security dialogue that had expanded to include nuclear policy and missile defense issues, it said.

Hagel, a former senator, and Yang, the former Chinese ambassador to Washington, "discussed their shared history and friendship that stretches back many years," as the two knew each other in their previous positions.

While Yang, who focuses on foreign policy, stopped at the Pentagon, China's Vice Premier Wang Yang, who concentrates on economics, paid a visit to Congress on Friday to meet several senior lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

US military leaders say defense ties have improved over the last year, with the Chinese navy due to take part in a major US-led exercise this summer. China cut off all military contacts in 2010 over a US arms sale to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.

Hagel told Yang he looked forward to holding talks with his counterpart, China's minister of national defense, General Chang Wanquan, who is due to visit the Pentagon next month.

The US military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey, visited China in April.

A report from a US digital security company, Mandiant, earlier this year said a large-scale hacking effort against American industry, including defense firms, could be traced to a Chinese military unit in Shanghai.

China has vehemently rejected the allegations.

Washington's credibility on the issue, however, suffered a setback after leaks revealed the National Security Agency was conducting massive electronic surveillance of phone records and Internet traffic.

The intelligence contractor behind the leak, Edward Snowden, initially fled to Hong Kong and then travelled on to Moscow.

In his talks with the Chinese delegation this week, President Barack Obama "expressed his disappointment and concern" that China did not hand over Snowden as requested by Washington.

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