BEIJING (Reuters) - The strengthening of cyber capabilities is an important part of China's military modernisation, the government said on Wednesday, warning that the internet should not become "a new battlefield".
China, home to the largest number of internet users, has long called for greater cooperation among countries in developing and governing the internet, while reiterating the need to respect "cyber sovereignty".
But Beijing, which operates the world's most sophisticated online censorship mechanism known elsewhere as the "Great Firewall", has also signalled that it wants to rectify "imbalances" in the way standards across cyberspace are set.
"The building of national defence cyberspace capabilities is an important part of China's military modernisation," the Foreign Ministry and the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's internet regulator, said in a strategy paper on the ministry's website.
China will help the military in its important role of "safeguarding national cyberspace sovereignty, security and development interests" and "hasten the building of cyberspace capabilities", they said, but also called on countries to "guard against cyberspace becoming a new battlefield".
Countries should not engage in internet activities that harm nations' security, interfere in their internal affairs, and "should not engage in cyber hegemony".
"Enhancing deterrence, pursing absolute security and engaging in a (cyber) arms race – this is a road to nowhere," Long Zhao, the Foreign Ministry's coordinator of cyberspace affairs, said at a briefing on the strategy.
"China is deeply worried by the increase of cyber attacks around the world," Long said.
The United States has accused China's government and military of cyber attacks on U.S. government computer systems. China denies the accusations and says it is a victim of hacking.
A cyber attack from China crashed the website of South Korea's Lotte Duty Free on Thursday, a company official said, at a time when South Korean firms are reporting difficulties in China following the deployment of a U.S. missile defence system in South Korea that China objects to.
While China's influence in global technology has grown, its ruling Communist Party led by President Xi Jinping has presided over broader and more vigorous efforts to control and censor the flow of information online.
The "Great Firewall" blocks many social media services, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Google, along with sites run by human rights groups and those of some foreign media agencies.
Chinese officials say the country's internet is thriving and controls are needed for security and stability.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Catherine Cadell; Editing by Nick Macfie