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"If the security of the Internet cannot be guaranteed, then ... results may be as serious as a nuclear bomb," said Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, in a joint press conference with his U.S. counterpart, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a statement released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey is in China to conduct negotiations on a number of fronts, including cybersecurity, North Korea, terrorism and disaster relief -- in the wake of an earthquake Sunday in Sichuan Province that left an estimated 188 people dead and 11,500 injured, and for which the Chinese military has been leading the disaster response.
[ Is China behind hacks? Read China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts. ]
On the cybersecurity front, Fang during the press briefing denied reports that a Chinese military unit has been responsible for launching cyberespionage operations and advanced persistent threat attacks against Western competitors.
"None of these activities is tolerated here in China," he said, emphasizing that like the United States, China is itself a victim of online attacks, reported The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, he noted the difficulty of accurately tracing back attacks to their true origin.
In an apparent first, however, the Chinese military official agreed to discuss the issue of cybersecurity in further high-level government talks. "Gen. Dempsey and I have already talked about the importance of maintaining cybersecurity," Fang said. "I believe it is important that we check out the idea that we should jointly work on this issue," he said.
Fang's remarks came the same day that Verizon released its annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR). That report -- based on information provided by Verizon and the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team, as well as other national CERTs, the U.S. Secret Service and law enforcement agencies in Europe -- counted 621 confirmed data breaches, 47,000 reported security incidents and 44 million compromised records in 2012.
"State-affiliated actors tied to China are the biggest mover in 2012," said the report. "Their efforts to steal IP [intellectual property] comprise about one-fifth of all breaches in this  data set." The report noted that "a whopping 96% of espionage cases were attributed to threat actors in China."
"State espionage and IP theft is more prevalent than ever," said Jay Jacobs, a senior analyst for the RISK Team at Verizon, speaking by phone.