WASHINGTON, May 21, 2014 – A day after the Justice Department charged five members of China’s military with hacking into computer networks of American companies, a Defense Department spokesman said the Pentagon wants to continue developing military relations with Beijing.
“We still desire, from a military perspective, to further grow and develop the military-to-military relationship and to find ways to have a more productive conversation about these very tough issues,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today. “Cyber’s one of them.”
Kirby added, however, that military relations must be based on trust.
“There are plenty of issues that we disagree on and it’s fair to say … that cyber’s one of those issues that we don’t see eye-to-eye on in every aspect,” he added.
Yet, this is all the more reason, Kirby said, to keep the military communications open and to continue to work on the relationship.
The admiral said while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not spoken to his Chinese counterpart regarding the indictment, cyber is a topic that the United States routinely discusses with Chinese authorities including during the secretary’s visit to China in April.
To the degree that the indictment will affect the two nation’s mil-to-mil relations, Kirby said “that’s a decision that the Chinese have got to make.”
“The degree to which it affects our military relationship is largely up to them, and their conduct and their behavior,” Kirby said. “We still believe that it’s an important relationship to have; we still want to keep the lines of communication open.”
The criminal charges against five members of the People’s Liberation Army marked the first time that the United States has moved to directly confront China about its alleged cyber hacking of commercial computer networks.
“I understand that yesterday they announced that they pulled out of the cyber working group — that’s regrettable,” Kirby said. “But this is a tough issue we don’t always agree on. It’s one that we’ve got to keep the dialogue and the conversations open on. And the secretary firmly believes in still doing that.”
Kirby noted that with countries like China that are active in cyber, “We want to continue to have as open [and] as transparent a conversation about it as possible.”
“You can’t surge trust,” Kirby said. “You have to build it over time.”