BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for his country to become a "cyber power," state media reported on Thursday after he chaired a meeting of a special group focused on Internet security.
"Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyber power," he said, according to Xinhua, which cited a statement it said was released after the group's first meeting earlier in the day.
"We should be fully aware of the importance and urgency of Internet security and informatisation," he said.
Xi heads the "leading group," Xinhua said, with Premier Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan - who along with Xi and Li is a member of the Communist Party's powerful politburo standing committee - the deputy heads.
At the meeting, Xi emphasised that Internet security is a key strategic and security issue for China, Xinhua reported.
Xi's call comes as the question of large-scale cyber espionage has become a key point of contention for China and the United States, the world's two biggest economies and which both possess large militaries.
In a report released in February last year, security firm Mandiant said China was devoting thousands of people to a military-linked unit that has pilfered intellectual property and government secrets.
In November, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its annual report to Congress that China has not curbed rampant spying on American interests.
The report accused China of "directing and executing a large-scale cyber espionage campaign," penetrating the US government and private industry.
China has vehemently denied accusations of cyber espionage.
Beijing has also cited leaks by former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden - revealing mass US electronic surveillance programmes - as evidence that the United States is guilty of double standards when it comes to online espionage.
US President Barack Obama said last year that he and Xi had "very blunt conversations" about cyber-hacking when they met for a summit in June in California.
Xi insisted at a joint press appearance during the meeting that China itself was a victim of cyber theft.