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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 June 02, 2011

Media Availability with Secretary Gates en route to Singapore

SEC. GATES: Let me just say a word about going to Shangri-La. This will be the fifth consecutive time I’ve done this. I think one of the things that has surprised me coming back to government despite all the controversies of recent years and the Iraq war and everything else has been the very broad interest on the part of many countries to strengthen the relationship with the United States and to have a stronger partnership with the United States. And I don’t think this is true anywhere more than in Asia.

And I think that there has been really extraordinary progress made, particularly in – I would say in the last couple of years or so with a number of countries in strengthening our military-to-military relationships and our overall relationship – Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Australia certainly, as well as our traditional allies in Thailand, Japan, and Korea. Obviously, a lot of attention focused on Southeast Asia at Shangri-La.

And I think the general recognition on the part of all the countries over the past several years that their own security environment is evolving and their desire to adjust their own positions accordingly and the need for us to be flexible as we develop our relationships with these countries and the nature of the activities that we have with others, whether it’s exercises or training programs or equipment or whatever.

So I see – and what I will largely talk about at the conference is the evolution and the changes in these positions and kind of where we are and moving to the future, but it is this – it goes back to what I have said, frankly using Madeline Albright’s term that the one thing that has been brought home to me again in this job is how many countries around the world truly do consider the United States the indispensable nation. We are often the catalyst not only for bilateral relationships, but for multilateral, the development of multilateral cooperation. And we are willing to partner with the people in these things.

And I think as the kinds of problems that the world is facing make it more difficult to have to be successful with a unilateral approach, the opportunity to build these partnerships it becomes even more important.

Obviously, China plays a big part in this. We’re very satisfied with the progress of the relationship. My first visit to China in this job was in the fall of 2007. I laid out a fairly ambitious agenda for developing our military-to-military relationship. We’ve obviously hit snags and obstacles along the way, but I think we’re in a pretty good place now, pretty realistic.

And if anything, what all of this has sort of suggested to me is we need more of what is almost always in short supply when it comes to the United States and its government, and that is patience, that these relationships take time to develop. And we get very impatient because our timelines are always short. And we just – we need to understand that these things develop over time. So why don’t I stop there.

Q: Another thing that’s going to be in short supply besides patience is money. You’ve been forthright in talking about how the downward pressures on the budget make the American people have to say what it can forego having the military do. They should look at Asia, are there things the military is doing in Asia now that can be jettisoned or are there risks that you see in what we can do in Asia by the downward pressure on the budget?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that in a way many of the things that we’re doing in Asia in building these relationships are actually pretty cost effective – training, exercises, rotations of forces and so on are – and the use of our Navy, our air assets moving from place to place. I think these are all cost effective ways of enhancing our influence, but also letting these countries know that we’re a reliable partner and that we can be counted on.

But it does – I would say, if anything these pressures put a premium on multilateral responses to problems. And whether it’s humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, where we see opportunities with a number of countries out here, including China, to deal with what seem to be all too frequent natural disasters that occur in Asia.

So I think that, as I said once before, everything will be on the table, but I believe that our approach to enhancing our relationships, our presence and our influence in Asia is a very cost effective approach.

Q: To pick up on your comment about being in a pretty good place with China right now, the relationship, obviously, as you said has had its ups and downs. And it is currently on the ups. But at this moment there’s also pressure to do – pressure building in Congress to move ahead with the F-16 sale, and I wondered whether you think the benefits of that to Taiwan’s security would outweigh the costs that would be incurred in the relationship with China?

SEC. GATES: Well, we do have obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. And we have this discussion in virtually every meeting that we have with the Chinese. I would say that I think under both the Bush and Obama administrations, we have tried to thread the needle pretty carefully in terms of Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, but at the same time being aware of China’s sensitivities. I think both administrations have done this very thoughtfully and very carefully. By the same token, there is – just as the Chinese are very open with us about their concerns, we are also open with them about our obligations.

Q: What’s your judgment about the F-16 sale – (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: I don’t have a view on that at this point.

Q: Sir, does the – at this point it’s a relatively, as far as historical terms, good relationships between Taiwan and Beijing? And does that give you any confidence that the ups and downs, that there may be a way around the ups and downs in the mil-to-mil relationship for your successor? I mean, you came in, thought things would go well, had a long period when things didn’t go well, things are a little bit better now. What might give us some hope that it won’t be Groundhog Day, in the words of Geoff Morrell?

SEC. GATES: Well, I don’t know the answer to that because I think we don’t know how the next months or a year or two will evolve. What is clear to me is that President Hu and President Obama have a shared interest in strengthening this relationship. They both believe that the military part of this relationship is underdeveloped compared to the military – compared to the political and economic elements of the relationship.

So, I think General Chun’s visit to the United States, the fact that the Chinese have upgraded their representation for the first time at Shangri-La to their minister of defense – I think we’ll just have to see how it plays out. And as I said a minute ago, be patient.

Q: As the PLA chief you referred to talked about how he felt that the army chief, the Chinese PLA chief Chen said during his visit that he felt that the whole Chinese threat had been hyped – that the Chinese military buildup had been hyped. Is that the case? And if not, how would you describe the potential threat that the Chinese military poses and how has that been trending in the past year or so, and including their behavior and their actions?

SEC. GATES: I think that their military modernization is proceeding apace. They are clearly working on capabilities that are of concern to us in terms of denial of access, particularly with respect to our aircraft carriers, the development of long-range accurate cruise and ballistic anti-ship missiles.

I seem to have some recollection of them having a demonstration of a stealth aircraft, fighter aircraft. I think clearly some of their work in cyber and anti-satellites. So, you know, my sense of it is that they are – and in their efforts frankly to build a blue water navy.

So I don’t have the sense that – let me rephrase that. I think the Chinese have learned a powerful lesson from the Soviet experience and they do not intend to try and compete with us across the full range of military capabilities. But I think they are intending to build capabilities that give them considerable freedom of action in Asia and the opportunity to extend their influence.

Now, one of the things that I’ve thought since I took this job was that under those circumstances there is value in a continuing dialogue by the two sides of just exactly what our concerns are, what our issues are, and how we might alleviate the concerns on both sides. And that’s why I have believed all along that this strategic dialogue is so important. We are not trying to hold China down. China has been a great power for thousands of years. It is a global power and will be a global power.

So the question is, how we work our way through this in a way that assures that we continue to have positive relations in areas like economics and other areas that are important to both of us and manage whatever differences of view we have in the other areas?

Q: Let me ask you about the selection of the new chairman. Two questions really. It’s been widely reported that General Cartwright’s providing alternatives to the White House on the troop debate of last – of a year and a half ago now affected his candidacy. I guess I’d like you to address that if you would. And second, the selection of General Dempsey has a kind of last-minute quality to it. You had a plan I think going back many months, maybe a year for this transition. Can you explain the selection of General Dempsey and how he fit into that plan?

SEC. GATES: Well, I’m clearly not going to get into personalities or the recommendations that I made with the president. I would say that I’ve been in a dialogue with the president over the succession issues for at least a year. I will tell you that some of the negative things that have been reported as influencing the decision, for example, the Afghan piece, are completely wrong – have nothing to do with whatsoever.

Hoss Cartwright is one of the finest officers I’ve ever worked with. I think he has been an outstanding vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think he had made an enormous contribution and I’ve enjoyed working with him for four years and consider him a friend. And he has rendered extraordinary service to the American people.

What I have tried to do as I’ve talked about my own successor and the whole range of positions within the government, including a potential successor for Leon at CIA and so on, has been to talk to the president about it as a team. The cohesiveness that we have had for the last two and a half years as a national security team I think has been an extraordinary asset for the president and for the country. And so, foremost in my mind was how, do I, make recommendations to him?

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