"China is investing in not only capabilities to better defend their networks but also they're looking at ways to use cyber for offensive operations," Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for East Asia and Asia Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey told the media.
Halvey said China is engaging in cyber activity focused on computer network exploitation. "That continues to be a concern of ours, and we've raised it and we've talked to the Chinese about it, most recently during the strategic security dialogue in Beijing," he said.
Noting that this is being raised at the highest level, Halvey said this is something that the United States continues to pay very careful attention to. "It's something that seems to be sustained, and I think their continued efforts in this area reflect the importance that they're placing on developing capabilities for cyber warfare," he said in response to a question.
"We continue to see China expressing interest in making investments to improve their capacity for operations in cyberspace, and that is something that we pay very, very careful attention to. There is the potential for these types of operations to be very disruptive, disruptive not only in a conflict, could be very disruptive to the United States, but other countries as well. "I mean, that's one of the things about military operations in cyberspace, that there can be cascading effects that are hard to predict," Halvey said.
"We do have concerns about this, and this is why we've created joint military and civilian platforms, like the Strategic Security Dialogue, to be able to talk about issues that we view as having potential for friction in the US-China relationship. Cyber is one of those areas. We'd also be like to be able to talk to China about space and nuclear and missile defence areas as well as part of the strategic security dialogue," he said.
The Pentagon official said China is investing in a range of layered capabilities that start with, undersea warfare, so investments in submarines and advanced surface combatants, advances in their capabilities for integrated air defence or to conduct precision conventional strikes at great distances from China.
"We have concerns because these types of capabilities could, if they're employed, in ways affect the ability of our forces or other forces in the region to be able to operate in the Western Pacific. So we highlight that as something that we're paying very, very careful attention to. And it was something that was raised in the context of a broader global concern that we have about anti-access/area denial capabilities in the January defence strategic guidance," he said.
Halvey said China is interested in developing unmanned air systems, and they have in the past acquired a number of different types of UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, both from foreign sources -- they have Israeli-made Harpy UAVs, and they also have some domestic variants of UAVs.
"We are paying very careful attention to China's military modernisation. But we've been surprised in the past, and we may very well be surprised in terms of seeing new weapons and equipment in the future. Part of this report and part of what the many, many professionals in the intelligence community do is to try to minimise the extent to which we are surprised by that," he said.
Halvey said China has now greater capacity and capability to operate at distances from China, that it has a responsibility also to uphold international norms and rules and to support the international community's interest in peace and stability.
"So we see opportunities to work with them there, and we'd like to continue doing those things that we have done, like counter piracy, for example, and expand those areas where we can cooperate," he said.