BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as the country embarks on military reform, state media said on Saturday.
Xi heads the Central Military Commission, which controls the 2.3-million-strong armed forces, the world's largest, and is stepping up efforts to modernize forces that are projecting power across disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.
During a meeting with the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Politburo, Xi said China "must vigorously promote military innovation" but warned it will be difficult.
"When you compare military innovation to other forms of innovation, the demands are greater and there will be a higher degree of difficulty," Xi was quoted as saying.
"Faced with the severe challenges to our national security and stability and the deep-seated contradictions and problems with reform, it is even more pressing that we greatly liberate our ideas and concepts, have the courage to change our fixed mindsets of mechanized warfare and establish the ideological concept of information warfare".
Xi said the army must "strive to establish a new military doctrine, institutions, equipment systems, strategies and tactics and management modes" for information warfare.
The announcement by Xi could rattle many of China's rivals, including the United States. Officials in Washington have argued for years that cyber espionage is a top national security concern, and Beijing and Washington have confronted each other publicly about the issue.
In May, U.S. authorities charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets.
A hacking attempt on a sensitive Canadian government computer network last month was similar to attacks mounted by an elite unit of the Chinese army based in Shanghai, according to a cybersecurity expert.
China has denied those charges, saying it is also a victim of cyber attacks.
In March, China announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years, a strong signal that it is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness in Asia, especially in disputed waters.
The spending increase appears to reflect Xi's desire to build what he calls a strong, rejuvenated China, even though the country has not fought a war in decades.
Xi also recently urged military leaders to speed efforts to get the country's sole aircraft carrier combat-ready.
Aside from the carrier, China is developing a range of high-tech weaponry, from stealth fighters to systems for shooting down satellites.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Dale Hudson)