BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States' top military officer on Monday defended the re-orientation of U.S. foreign policy towards Asia in front of his Chinese counterpart, a week after Beijing criticised Washington for ramping up its military presence in the region.
China is uneasy with what the United States has called the "rebalancing" of forces as Washington winds down the war in Afghanistan and renews its attention further east.
China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes with Beijing.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States "has been and will continue to be a Pacific power.
"We seek to be a stabilising influence in the region," Dempsey said at a news conference at China's Ministry of National Defence. "In fact, we believe it would be our absence that would be destabilising in the region, not our presence."
Dempsey was speaking at a joint press conference with Chinese Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Fang Fenghui after both sides held talks earlier in the day.
China's defence ministry made a thinly veiled criticism of the United States last week for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific, saying China faces "multiple and complicated security threats" due to the U.S. strategy.
Fang said there is a possibility that North Korea could launch a fourth nuclear test.
"We ask all sides to work on the North Koreans to stop the nuclear tests, and stop producing nuclear weapons," he said.
Fang reiterated China's stance that it is firmly opposed to nuclear tests by North Korea.
China is North Korea's main diplomatic and financial backer, but in recent months it has begun to express impatience with Pyongyang.
After weeks of threats of war by North Korea, Pyongyang said last week it would return to negotiations subject to a list of conditions, including the lifting of U.N. sanctions. The United States said it was seeking "clear signals" that the North would halt its nuclear weapons activities.
North Korea has moved two short-range missile launchers to its east coast, apparently indicating it is pushing ahead with preparations for a test launch, a South Korean news agency reported on Sunday.
When asked whether China was willing to delegate staff to set rules for global cybersecurity, Fang said that the Internet, "if it is not managed well, it may bring damaging consequences".
"If security cannot be guaranteed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the damage of consequences could be as serious as a nuclear bomb," he said.
Beijing and Washington have traded accusations in recent months of massive cyber intrusions. The United States says hacking attacks emanating from China have targeted U.S. government and corporate computer networks among others, stealing government and commercial data.
A U.S. computer security firm released a report in February saying a secretive Chinese military unit is believed to be behind a wave of hacking attacks against the United States.
Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Jon Hemming