Joint Chiefs chairman says China shares U.S. concerns about North Korea


Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, center left, introduces his delegate to Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, as Chinese Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui, right, watches before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Andy Wong/AP)

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that he is leaving China with assurances that Chinese leaders are as concerned as the United States is about threats by North Korea and are working diligently to head off further provocations.

Chinese officials, however, provided no specifics on how they were conveying that message to Pyongyang, Dempsey acknowledged at a briefing with reporters after a series of meetings with top Chinese military leaders.

“Unlike sometimes the reports you would get that they’re less interested than they probably should be, or that we’d want to them to be, I leave here believing that they’re very interested in trying to contribute to stability on the [Korean] peninsula,” said Dempsey, who will continue his meetings with military leaders in Japan on Thursday.

The most recent round of threats and messages between the United States and North Korea differs from previous exchanges because it has lasted longer, Dempsey said.

“What that means is that I think the risk of miscalculation is higher, and the chance of escalation is higher,” he said.

Chinese leaders were even less specific on the subject of cyberattacks, the other looming issue dominating this week’s high-level discussions in Beijing.

Dempsey is the latest in a string of top U.S. officials sent to China in recent weeks with a strong message on cyberattacks, driven by the United States’ newfound willingness to confront Beijing as evidence mounts of government-sponsored cyber-intrusions targeting U.S. companies, including defense contractors.

Dempsey said he told Chinese leaders it was against their strategic and economic interests to not deal with cybersecurity head-on.

“We had a useful discussion on how the challenges of cyber are migrating from theft to disruption and, left unaddressed, are likely to lead to destruction,” Dempsey said. “And the nations of the world who rely most on technology and have the strongest economies will be the most vulnerable.”

In recent months, Chinese leaders have agreed to form a working group with U.S. officials to discuss cybersecurity but have continued to deny involvement in the attacks. Instead they depict themselves as one of the biggest victims of intrusions.

At a news conference Monday after talks with Dempsey, a senior Chinese general agreed the issue was serious and described the consequences of a major cyberattack as being “as serious as a nuclear bomb.”

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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