U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he plans to raise the issue of cyber espionage when he meets informally with Chinese officials on the sidelines of a security summit in Singapore.
U.S. officials are pondering how to confront Beijing after recent reports the Chinese hacked into US weapons designs, the latest in what officials say is a long history of cyber-intrusions by China.
During a stop in Hawaii en route to Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said there is no greater concern to the United States than cyber security.
Later, speaking to reporters aboard his flight to Singapore, Hagel said cyber security will be among the top issues at the Shangri-La dialogue, an annual security summit at which a Chinese delegation will be present.
"I'll be meeting with the Chinese delegation in Singapore. These are issues that we're going to deal with, frame up, put up at the top of the agenda," he said.
But U.S. officials are being careful not to embarrass or anger China by airing American concerns about cyber-intrusions in public. Hagel said private consultations may - in this case - be more effective.
He said he will work to set up an understanding of what is acceptable behavior in cyberspace.
"There's only one way to deal with these issues and that's straight up. We intend to use all these venues and that closer cooperation and closer venue-building to hopefully get us in a position where we can get some better understanding, closer understanding of what these rules of the road are," Hagel added.
This is Hagel's first trip to Asia as secretary of defense. His main job is to reassure partners in the region that the United States is fulfilling its commitments after the Obama administration declared it is rebalancing its military focus to the Asia Pacific.
Hagel says the rebalance is on track despite budgetary problems that have forced the Pentagon to furlough thousands of workers, curtail ship deployments and make other cuts.
Also high on the agenda are discussions on threats by North Korea.
The defense secretary is scheduled to give a major policy speech on Saturday, in which he will outline the progress and goals of the rebalancing to Asia.
After Singapore, Hagel will head to a NATO meeting in Brussels, where ministers will hold a session on cyber security.