BEIJING -- The United States and China held their highest-level military talks in nearly two years on Monday, with a senior Chinese general pledging to work with the United States on cybersecurity because the consequences of a major cyberattack "may be as serious as a nuclear bomb."
Cybersecurity has become a sudden source of tension between the two countries. China has bristled over the growing body of evidence that its military has been involved in cyberattacks on American corporations and some government agencies. Last month, the Obama administration demanded that the Chinese government stop the theft of data from American computer networks and help create global standards for cybersecurity.
At a news conference on Monday after talks with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the Chinese general, Fang Fenghui, said he would be willing to set up a cybersecurity "mechanism," but warned that progress might not be swift.
"I know how difficult it is," General Fang said. "Anyone can launch the attacks -- from the place where he lives, from his own country or from another country."
General Dempsey arrived in Beijing on Sunday for his first visit to China. His predecessor, Adm. Mike Mullen, held talks in Beijing in July 2011.
General Dempsey's three-day visit comes as mistrust has mounted between Beijing and Washington over a host of issues, including differences over North Korea, Washington's strengthened military posture in the Asia Pacific region, China's assertiveness in the South and East China Seas and basic problems of how the two militaries should communicate in a crisis.
China invited General Dempsey for the talks after the lengthy transition process to a new Chinese government was completed in March. His arrival followed the first visit by Secretary of State John Kerry more than a week ago, and Obama administration officials say they hope the almost back-to-back talks will yield a starting point for better relations after a rocky period of drift.
At the news conference, General Fang, who is the chief of the People's Liberation Army General Staff and a member of the powerful Central Military Commission, also talked of wanting a "new kind of military relationship that is consistent with the state-to-state relationship." He spoke with a confidence that reflected the growing strength of China's military, including expanding its naval presence.
"The Pacific Ocean is wide enough to accommodate us both," General Fang said, a suggestion that it was time for the United States to understand the American military would not be able to dominate forever. President Xi Jinping used the same phrase on the eve of his visit to Washington as vice president in February 2012.
General Dempsey did not allow the remark to go unnoticed. The United States, he said, is looking for a "better, deeper and more enduring relationship" with the Chinese military -- but in the context of "other historic and enduring alliances."
"We do have treaty obligations," he said, a reference to the American alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia. "We will build and recognize the historic alliances, and there will be points when that creates friction."
Defending the Obama administration's decision to "pivot" toward Asia -- a policy widely interpreted as a response to China's expanding influence -- General Dempsey said it was not as though "we've disappeared and are about to reappear." He said he had told General Fang in their private conversation before the news conference that the United States sought to be a "stabilizing" factor and that the absence of the United States in the Asia Pacific region would be "destabilizing."
After a decade of concentrating on Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will now carry out an Asia Pacific policy of "three mores," General Dempsey said, bringing more interest, more engagement and more quality assets to the region.
General Fang raised the issue of North Korea's latest nuclear test, a detonation in February just 100 miles from China's northeast border.
"North Korea has already concluded a third nuclear test, and it could conduct a fourth nuclear test," he said.
China is North Korea's main ally and economic patron, and the United States has urged the Chinese to use their influence to halt the North's bombast and threats of nuclear attacks on American targets.
General Fang reiterated that China was opposed to North Korea's developing nuclear weapons, and asked for a reopening of the so-called six-party talks that aimed to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The talks collapsed several years ago.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.