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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates January 11, 2011

Media Roundtable with Secretary Gates from Beijing, China

MR. GEOFF MORRELL (Pentagon Press Secretary): Thank you all for coming. We have a half an hour, so we’re going to have to move quickly. This is obviously on the record with the secretary of defense. I’m told the wireless was turned back on in this room, but I would appreciate it if no one would file until the conclusion of this discussion so we can focus on everything the secretary has to say, not just a little snippet off the top, so you can get the full context of what he’s going to brief you on.

Okay? I have everybody’s agreement on that? Thank you.

Ambassador Huntsman is here as well. But with that, I’ll turn it over to the secretary and then we’ll -- I’ll moderate so we can move quickly. Thank you.

SEC. GATES: I had two good meetings today, one with the foreign minister and obviously just with President Hu. We covered the full gamut of the relationship, particularly from the military-to-military side.

As with each of my meetings, we spent some time on North Korea and the importance of some concrete measures on the part of the North Koreans to demonstrate they’re serious about proceeding with negotiations and exchanges. I discussed with both the idea of the strategic security dialogue. It was clear from President Hu that they’re taking the proposal seriously. I think they’re trying to work their way through how it would relate to the other mechanisms of dialogue that we have in the military and security arena and what the agenda would be.

We promised to get back to them and work with them on this. And our hope is that we can get such a dialogue started or such a mechanism started before the Strategic and Economic Dialogue next meets I think in five months, thereabouts.

I think that now that my substantive meetings are complete, I feel that it’s been a very positive visit. I think that the hospitality that has been extended to me certainly is superior to any previous visit that I have had here in China. All of the conversations have been very cordial and friendly and I think it sets the stage for making further constructive progress in the military-to-military relationship.

I’d make just one further comment before taking your questions: I think this is an arena where we have to play the long game. This is not an area where I think you will see dramatic breakthroughs or big headlines, but rather the evolutionary growth of relationships and activities together that over time have a positive effect on the overall relationship.

I’m not someone who believes that these kinds of relationships are prone to, if you will, the big breakthrough. And I think we’ve made some real progress here. I think there is a desire to move forward. Clearly, the relationship was interrupted, as has been made evident all along the way, by the arms sales to Taiwan early in the year.

But it is equally clear to me that the Chinese, including the PLA, are prepared to move forward with a much richer agenda of cooperative activities. Okay.

MR. MORRELL: Okay. Let’s start it off. Anne.

Q: China has apparently made the first test flight of the J-20 today because there are pictures of it flying. Your reaction? And you think that it was timed in any way to coincide with your visit? If so, what do you think the message is?

SEC. GATES: Well, I asked President Hu about it directly.

Q: And?

SEC. GATES: And he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a pre-planned test. And that’s where we left it.

Q: Could I follow up on that? You’re a man of candor and you’ve been around a long time. Did you believe that?

SEC. GATES: Coming from President Hu, yes.

Q: Could I follow up? Do you feel that there’s a -- we asked you on the plane coming over about the difference -- about a gap between the Chinese civilian leadership and its military leadership. Now that you’ve had these meetings and you’ve been here two days, do you perceive a gap? Do you perceive that the military is acting independently at times of the civilian leadership?

SEC. GATES: I’ve had concerns about this over time. And, frankly, it’s one of the reasons why I attach importance to a dialogue between the two sides that includes both civilians and militaries. I think that there is great merit in bringing the civilian side and the military side together to discuss these issues because there is obviously -- it is hard to compartmentalize many of these security issues into either just purely military or purely civilian.

Q: Could I follow up on that? Would it not have been appropriate for the Chinese to delay this test given your presence here and the mutual desire expressed in the last few days to improve military-to-military relations?

SEC. GATES: Well, that’s why I asked President Hu about that.

Q: But in your opinion -- I mean, there is a sort of signal sent here perhaps or at least one could be perceived. Do you perceive -- you don’t perceive any signal here?

SEC. GATES: I take President Hu at his word that it had nothing -- the test had nothing to do with my visit.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday Minister Liang said that the United States also has to do some things to ensure that the military relationship remains stable. And he seemed to be specifically referring to -- well, he said remove obstacles, referring to Taiwan arms sales. Do you see the U.S. changing its policy on Taiwan arms sales at all in order to sort of meet the Chinese half way somehow on this issue?

SEC. GATES: Well, I suppose that one of the virtues of age is that I was actually in the White House when normalization took place. So I know something about the details of this. And I have made clear when this subject has been raised that, first of all, we do consider -- we do have a one-China policy.

We do consider the relationship to be based on the three joint communiques -- I always add “and the Taiwan Relations Act.” Again, this is not policy. This is law. That we do not support independence for Taiwan and at the same that we have certain obligations under that law.

But I have also added that under both President Bush and President Obama we have been certainly cognizant of Chinese sensitivities. And I believe that the decisions that have been made have focused on defensive capabilities.

And certainly, over time, if the security environment changes, I also indicated to the Chinese that we would -- we were not going to change our policy, but clearly over time if the environment changed and if the relationship between the China and Taiwan continued to improve and the security environment for Taiwan changed, then perhaps that would create the conditions for reexamining all of this. But that would be an evolutionary and a long-term process, it seems to me. I don’t think that’s anything that’s going to happen anytime soon.

So they made their point and I made mine.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I’m a blogger from China. My question is in the Asia area is very important also -- the Sino-Japan relation is very important. From this dispute, it seemed like it’s relevant to the U.S. So the treaty, the mutual treaty between United States and China, now the U.S. plan has covered the Diaoyutai island. Do you reaffirm that and what means cover? That means what’s -- more concise -- the position about territory disputes of this island.

SEC. GATES: Yes. The United States has no position on the question of ownership of the islands, but as long as the islands are administered by Japan, the position in the U.S. government is that they are covered by the U.S.-Japanese Mutual Security Treaty.

Q: I’m sorry. Could I just ask a little bit more about Taiwan? Given what General Liang said yesterday and what you just said about obstacles and about his hope that arms sales would not disrupt -- (inaudible) -- relations and what you said now about the long-term prospect of U.S. policy evolving, how do you evolve? How do you avoid just -- (inaudible) -- military relations when the next arms sale occurs?

SEC. GATES: Well, one of the comments that was made by the Chinese yesterday was that certainly the mechanisms that we have -- the maritime consultative mechanism, the defense consultative talks, and so on, would continue without interruption. And so I felt that in response to my express concern that we have a relationship that does not go on again, off again based on the shifting political winds that it sounded to me like the mechanisms that we currently have that meet every year or several times a year, I thought I heard them saying that these will continue.

I think that my interpretation of what General Liang said was that in terms of this kind of a visit and so on that they leave that issue open, depending on developments.

Q: That there would be a broad continuity even -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: That was my understanding.

Q: A quick clarification on the J-20 and then a question on North Korea. The J-20 clarification, does the test flight at all cause you to reevaluate your statements of recent days that they would -- the Chinese might have more of a stealth capability. You said they wouldn’t have a substantial stealth capability or fifth generation fighter in 20 years or so.

SEC. GATES: No, let’s be -- let’s be very precise. What I said was that in 2020 or 2025, there would be a great disparity between the numbers of stealth aircraft that the United States had and those of any other power.

Q: And nothing today has caused you to reevaluate that statement?


(Cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: Hold on. You’ll get a chance. Go ahead, John.

Q: The North Korea question. Could you talk a little bit more about what you asked -- what you discussed with the president on that? What would you like to see as further steps that China could help in -- what sort of concrete things do you want them to see to sort of ratchet down North Korea’s behavior? What more -- could you illuminate that a little bit more?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, in every one of my meetings I said that the U.S. government recognizes and appreciates the constructive role that the Chinese have played over the last several months in dampening tensions on the Korean Peninsula. They clearly have played a helpful role. And one of my messages was that there are two things that have changed the status quo on the Peninsula in a worrying way -- one of them in a worrying way. At least one.

The first is, with the North Koreans’ continuing development of nuclear weapons, and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, and we have to take that into account.

And the second is clearly a sea change in the attitude of the South Korean public in their willingness to tolerate the kind of provocations the North Koreans have engaged in for many years, but with two just this past year -- the Cheonan and the artillery shelling -- that their tolerance for not responding has changed. And clearly if there is another provocation, there will be pressure on the South Korean government to react.

We consider this a situation of real concern and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement, but we don’t want to see the situation that we’ve seen so many times before, which is the North Koreans engage in a provocation and then everybody scrambles diplomatically to try and put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. And I’ve used the phrase several years ago in this job: I don’t want to buy the same horse twice. And so what I think we would like to see are some concrete actions by North Korea that show that they’re serious about moving to a negotiation and an engagement track. And that was some of the content of what I had said.

MR. MORRELL: We’ve got to keep moving. Yes, down there.

Q: Yes -- can I follow up on the (inaudible) -- of the J20. I understand the U.S. has enough fifth generation fighter jets, but however no other East Asian country, including Japan, has fifth generation fighter jets. So my question is, are you at all concerned about the shifting balance of air force power in the East Asian region?

SEC. GATES: Well, I’m going to Japan from here and the Japanese government is considering the purchase of its next generation of fighter aircraft, the FX. And so that would give Japan the opportunity -- if they bought the right airplane -- to have a fifth generation capability. And I might have a few suggestions for them.

MR. MORRELL: Yes, John.

Q: A question on the issue of Taiwan. In your discussions with the Chinese, did you get any indication that they were, for example, willing to cut the number of missiles they have facing Taiwan or take action to further improve the security situation that would then perhaps lead to a positive development on our reaction to the security situation there? Have you floated that idea…

SEC. GATES: No. But I did -- I did reinforce our support for improving cross-strait relationships. We would very much like to see that continue.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what kind of a nuclear strategy talks do you seek with China? And now that we didn’t say yes to the strategy talks you proposed, do you seek strategic nuclear talks like something like with the Soviets you used to have?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that first of all, one difference is that one of the things that I’m not proposing or that the U.S. is not proposing is some kind of arms control talks with China, which was the foundation of the strategic dialogue with the Soviet Union.

This would be more of a dialogue in terms of trying to help each other understand what our long-term intentions, policies and strategies are. And, frankly, I think the question you have asked, in some respects, is the question the Chinese are asking us. Okay, what would the specific agenda look like? And that’s what we have to go develop and then send back here as a way of trying to move this proposal forward to flesh out exactly what we do mean and what the discussions would involve in each of the four areas that we’re talking about: nuclear, missile defense, space and cyber.

Q: (Inaudible) -- very limited achievement. Do you agree with that in their limited achievement, do you agree with that, and how do you evaluate -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: Well, I go back to the opening comments that I made. I think this is -- we have to look to the long term. I think that we’ve made a number of steps forward. I think we have restarted some things that were agreed in 2009 and interrupted. I think we’ve expanded on the list of areas in which we are prepared to work together and have joint operations and exercises and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime search and rescue, counterpiracy, counterterrorism.

So I think we’ve expanded the list of areas where we’re prepared to look for ways to work together and exercise together. And so I think that we have -- I said when I came here that I didn’t expect any big breakthroughs. But what I did want was to begin to expand this relationship and deepen it with more and more contact and more and more activity.

Now, I’m not just interested in sort of getting together for the sake of getting together. I think there needs to be real substance in the relationship. And I think that the dialogues that we already have provide the opportunity to make some progress in that area. Again, I think that the more senior-level civilian military talks have the opportunity to add even greater substance to it.

So I would say that we have made progress in further expanding the relationship and in restarting activities that have been agreed upon when General Xu visited Washington in the fall of 2009. And so I’m quite satisfied with what has been achieved during the visit.

Q: When you said earlier that the -- that North Korea was becoming a direct threat to the United States, could you just elaborate on what that means, where we are exactly in that process? I mean, North Korea has been spoken about for some time as kind of a threat. What’s changed?

SEC. GATES: I think it is the combination of their continuing nuclear programs but also the progress that they’re making in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Q: Is it an immediate threat? Is it a --

SEC. GATES: I don’t think it’s an immediate threat, no. But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a five-year threat.

Q: China does not want the U.S. Navy to conduct exercise -- (inaudible) -- the Chinese -- (inaudible). May I have your comment about that?

SEC. GATES: The United States has long supported and defended the freedom of navigation all over the world. We will be very respectful of the territorial seas, territorial waters and air space of other countries. But we also will -- not just in this region but all over the world -- continue to assert the freedom of navigation for our Navy and for our ships.

Q: Mr. Secretary -- (inaudible) -- weeks ago, we had a -- (inaudible) -- crisis -- (inaudible) -- U.S. sent some air carriers and other folks on the region -- (inaudible) -- how effective that was. My question is: Does this mean the U.S. is preparing for war in case the negotiation -- (inaudible) -- does not work?

SEC. GATES: The purpose of our exercises and our activities is to deter North Korea from further attacks. These exercises are not directed toward any other country in the region but are focused on trying to deter the North Koreans from yet another provocation for all the reasons that I described earlier in terms of the potential consequences of another provocation.

Q: My question is about North Korea. You just mentioned about the negotiation. How do you think North Korea is -- (inaudible) -- to South Korea about improvement of -- (inaudible)? Do you evaluate those kinds of actions like North Korea, and what kind of -- (inaudible) -- with North Korea. In detail -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, rhetoric is not enough at this point. I think there need to be to concrete actions by the North to demonstrate that they’re truly serious about negotiation and engagement at this point.

Q: Could you give an example or two of what they could do?

SEC. GATES: Well, they could have a moratorium on missile testing, a moratorium on nuclear testing. There are several areas where they could take concrete actions.

Q: Are you asking the Chinese to lobby them on those particular fronts?

SEC. GATES: No, I just described to them -- the purpose of my conversations here was simply to identify for my hosts our concerns and the need for us to continue working together. I didn’t make any specific requests of the Chinese.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you have mentioned several times that you feel that China has been more constructive in recent months. Admiral Mullen expressed a bit of frustration with China just six weeks ago, I believe.

What have they done recently specifically that you consider to be more helpful than previously?

SEC. GATES: Well, I don’t know what Admiral Mullen was referring to, but I mean, all of the evidence that I’ve seen suggests that the Chinese used their influence with Pyongyang to be restrained in response to any South Korean exercise activity.

Q: Just going back to your comments on Taiwan, is this then a small shift in the U.S. approach to the issue at least in how you communicate the U.S. stance and --

SEC. GATES: No, I don’t think so. I’m not trying to imply any change in U.S. policy whatsoever.

Q: This week has been -- the talk on South Korea, the more South Koreans are opposed or skeptical of the growing trilateral -- (inaudible) -- between the U.S. and South Korea. Did that come up at all here in China that -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: No, not at all.

MR. MORRELL: We’ve been around the horn.

Dan really didn’t get much of an answer. We’ll give Dan another shot.

Q: Is there a model for the military relations, perhaps in the intelligence realm? Is that a place where the U.S. and the Chinese have made more progress or had better dialogue?

SEC. GATES: Well, the way I would put it is that I had associations with certain relationships that remain largely unaffected by -- as I used the term yesterday -- shifting political winds. I would like to see the military-to-military relationship in the same category.

Q: Would you say a word about --

MR. MORRELL: Hold on, Ann. I’m sorry. Looking ahead to your visit tomorrow morning?

Q: Yes, to the base.

SEC. GATES: I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be interesting. I’m not quite sure what I’ll see. But, you know, as you all have pointed out, Secretary Rumsfeld, I think, visited the same site in 2005. I’m not sure -- 2005. But I think that -- again, I think the frequency -- when General Xu visited the United States, he visited Strategic Command. He clearly was quite satisfied with his visit, felt that that he had been treated very well. I hope I have an equal opportunity tomorrow.

MR. MORRELL: One last one to one of our Chinese friends. Do you have another one, sir?

Q: What is your expectations of President Hu’s visit? What will be your concern?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that -- first of all, I think this visit is a -- my visit here is a very positive precursor for President Hu’s visit to Washington. I think that -- I expect that the atmosphere next week will be quite positive. And every expectation is that President Hu’s visit will be very successful.

Q: (Inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: I don’t know the degree to which some of the topics that I have raised here will carry over into the discussions between the two presidents. I think it’s probably self-evident that there will be some discussion of North Korea between the two presidents. But beyond that, in the security realm, frankly, I don’t know.

Q: Clarification. On North Korea, were you saying that the think that North Korea will be a threat to the United States within five years? And if so, what needs to change? What needs to happen in the five years?

SEC. GATES: I think that -- let me be precise. I think that North Korea will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile within that timeframe, not that they will have huge numbers or anything like that, but they will have -- I believe they will have a very limited capability.

Q: And what needs to happen then to respond to that?

SEC. GATES: That’s what we’re talking about in terms of -- that’s what all this discussion has been about about North Korea; how do we put North Korea on a different path?

Q: Thank you.


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