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

Presenter: September 14, 2012

Defense Department Background Briefing on the Secretary's Upcoming Trip to Asia

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. I wish I got this kind of turnout for my own briefing.

Thanks for joining us to discuss the upcoming trip to Japan, China and New Zealand. This briefing will be conducted on background.

I'd like to introduce [Senior Defense Official One], on the far end of the table, and [Senior Defense Official Two] on your end.

They will be referred to as "Senior Official One,"; and "Senior Official Two."

Q: Senior official? Senior defense...

MR. LITTLE: "Senior Defense Official" -- I'm sorry. "Senior Defense Official."

[Senior Defense Official One] will make brief opening remarks and then we'll open the floor to your questions. Please introduce yourselves and limit your questions to one question and a follow-up. We have precisely 30 minutes for this briefing. At the end of the brief I'll ask the traveling press corps to remain in the room for a short administrative discussion.

And with that, I'll turn it over to [Senior Defense Official One]. Thanks.


Thanks, everybody. Thanks for coming. I'll try to be brief.

Just overall, this is Secretary Panetta's third trip to the region. He's -- it's an opportunity to further advance the -- the rebalance, which he outlined in his speech at Shangri-La.

As everyone knows, this is a whole-of-government approach coming on the heels of the secretary of state's visit, 10-day trip to the region, and the deputy secretary's trip earlier this summer.

He's going to visit Japan, China and New Zealand, and highlight the importance the U.S. plays as a Pacific nation and maintaining a system of peace and security that has helped bring millions [into] prosperity and, generally speaking, advance democracy throughout the region.

We've received clear signals from partners and allies in the region about the engagement and presence we continue to play in the region, as well as the rebalance itself.

Our engagement is guided by basic principles that Secretary Panetta outlined in his Shangri-La speech: free and open commerce; just international order that emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations and fidelity to the rule of law; open access by all to the shared domains of sea, air, space, cyberspace; and resolving disputes without coercion and use of force.

The Department of Defense is setting priorities and making tangible investments that will continue to promote security in the 21st century. Majority of our naval fleet to the Pacific. Expanding training exercises. Deploying forces on a rotational basis to Australia and Southeast Asia. And prioritizing military capabilities most relevant to the region.

Again, this is just one piece of an interagency, whole-of-government program -- or strategy.

Just quickly, to tick through some of the specifics with respect to Japan. It will be his second visit as the secretary of defense. This is obviously a cornerstone of -- this alliance is a cornerstone of security and prosperity that's existed for more than 50 years.

And specifically we're looking in terms of the alliance in implementing the realignment road map, enhancing cooperation in areas such as ballistic missile defense and reviewing our alliance roles, missions, capabilities that the secretary and Defense Minister Morimoto highlighted during their bilateral earlier this summer.

Next stop is in China. It was his first visit to China. He's traveling at the invitation of General Liang, who visited the Pentagon in May. It will give him an opportunity to deepen our military-to-military engagement, which is obviously a priority for the secretary.

Essentially, the secretary's view is that stable and constructive U.S.-China relations are a vital component of this broader strategy. We will not achieve security and prosperity in the 21st century without a constructive U.S.-China relationship, including a stronger military-to-military relationship.

We are encouraging our allies and partners in Asia to do the same. We want to look towards healthy, stable, reliable and continuous military-to-military ties.

Our goal ultimately is a sustained and substantive defense dialogue. We're building on these areas where we can find interests in common while strengthening channels of communication that can help improve mutual misunderstanding -- mutual understanding--, build trust, increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation.

He's -- we're looking at meeting top civilians and military leaders, and he's -- the secretary is very clear-eyed about the challenges posed by such a big and complex relationship, but he's committed to strengthening and deepening this overall relationship.

Finally, on New Zealand, his first visit -- his first visit as secretary of defense and the first visit by a U.S. secretary of defense since Caspar Weinberger in 1982. His visit builds upon the progress made this summer when he met Defense Minister Coleman, signed the Washington Declaration that will deepen cooperation between the two nations. He views this tour increasing -- views this visit as essentially getting to the new normal in our security relationship.

It's been a -- New Zealand's been a steadfast and valued partner, and really would like to note the significant contributions and sacrifices they made in Afghanistan and condolences for those who have lost their lives there.

And we, again, appreciate New Zealand's role, especially in responding to natural disasters and providing security in the South Pacific.

So with that, I will stop with the opening comments.

MR. LITTLE: Questions?

Q: I wondered if you saw -- how you would say at this point in time, as he's going there, the U.S.-China mil-to-mil relationship. I mean, we've had periods of time where it's been on and off. Do you feel like you've at least made the dips not as -- not as deep? I mean, how -- talk to me a little bit about that.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. I'll just say a couple of things, and then turn it over to [Senior Defense Official Two], who's the real expert on this.

I think, you know, we have worked hard, both sides, to really get to a pretty stable baseline. And I think that, you know, we're moving in the right direction overall with the mil-to-mil relationship. We're both -- we're broadening the relationship and deepening it in terms of the numbers of exercises, senior visits, and also efforts to have more junior officer contact as well.

[Senior Defense Official Two], anything to add on that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, just to -- just to add on what -- what [Senior Defense Official One] said. We've made some progress in -- in recent months in the military-to-military relationship. We're looking to -- to strengthen the foundation of our relationship to make it one that is, as you said before, sustained and substantive.

We've had a number of high-level visits this year, and the secretary's visit to China continues that momentum that we've had in sustained high-level dialogue going back to Defense Minister Liang Guanglie's visit here to the Pentagon in May. Admiral Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, had a very successful visit to China in June. We hosted the -- the deputy chief of the general staff from the PLA, Lieutenant General Cai Yingting, just a couple of weeks ago.

And so we see the secretary's visit now as sustaining that -- that very positive momentum.

Going into the future, we look to, again, improve on the channels of communication that we've established to build greater mutual understanding, build greater mutual trust, and really, you know, reduce the risk that misperception or miscalculation could lead to friction in the relationship.

Q: And a quick follow-up. In addition to visiting the capital, will he -- you guys have pushed transparency and access to various military headquarters. Will there be any -- can you announce any other military headquarters he's expected to -- to view or see while he's there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Well, we're looking to have a good number of interactions when we visit -- visit China. We've -- obviously looking forward to having a good meeting with the Defense Minister Liang, who's one of his counterparts.

We're also looking to have the opportunity to -- to visit some military facilities around Beijing, specifically the PLA Armored Engineering Academy, which is not exactly an analog to what Defense Minister Liang went and saw when he visited down in Fort Benning, but it is -- it is pretty close to it.

There, we'll have an opportunity to meet and interact with mid-grade and junior officers, which is also one of the big priorities we have in the relationship, to really expand the scope of individuals that we're interacting with at the PLA.

Q: If I could follow up on that, on meetings. Was there an attempt to have the defense secretary meet with any civilian leaders more senior than the defense minister?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: We -- we -- you know, I don't want to sort of go through the schedule here. I'll refer that to George and Carl. But we -- we do have meetings with both civilian and defense ministry types at senior levels of the -- of the government.

Q: (inaudible) -- meeting with the president?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: On -- right now, the schedule isn't locked down on some of those points. So we're sort of working through that. They are, you know, these schedules kind of get locked down very late, and so that's kind of where we are on some of the meetings. But it's still fluid at this point in time.

Q: One of the things that Secretary Gates said when he was there last year was to seek a dialogue on nuclear and ballistic missile forces between the two countries. Is there any progress on that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Actually, one of the things that Secretary Gates really hit upon was the desire to see a joint military and civilian dialogue focusing on strategic security issues in the U.S.-China relationship.

And, in fact, we do have now the U.S.-China Strategic Security Dialogue, which is under the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. We've had two rounds of the Strategic Security Dialogue. On the U.S. side that's led by the Department of State, but the Department of Defense participates at senior levels.

Q: Do you know what, if any, part of the discussions will involve a lot of these territorial disputes -- East China Sea, South China Sea, et cetera -- particularly since the secretary will be in Japan just prior to the stop in -- in China?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: You know -- I think, you know, for me to sort of go and prejudge or sort of preview what may or may not come up is really not, you know, what -- what I'm going to do here today.

But I just would say that, you know, I would point you back to the secretary of state's comments on the 9th, I believe, at Vladivostok. I mean, that is the general approach we take here and we are very much in alignment with the State Department on those comments and -- and what Ms. Nuland says in the -- at the podium as well to follow up.

Q: (inaudible) -- China, sir.

Is the secretary -- is Secretary Panetta looking to play a mediator role between Japan and China on those -- on the territorial dispute on the East China Sea at the outset of his visit?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, I would say first, you know, diplomacy and mediation, that's the role of the Department of State. And, again, I think I would just point you back to what Secretary Clinton said on -- on 9 September on the margins of Vladivostok where she addressed both the East China and South China Sea issues in a very public forum.

Q: And just to follow up. Has the -- what kind of message does the secretary want to convey to both the Japanese and Chinese on the Americans' take on this?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I'm sorry, could you -- on the Americans' take on...

Q: On the U.S. position on those -- on those dispute.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. I mean, you know, I would -- again, I think it's very much in alignment with Secretary Clinton's comments on, I think it's 9 September. You know, we as a government stand for principles. We continue to seek diplomatic resolution to these -- to these disputes consistent with the rule of law. We oppose coercion.

I mean, she -- she went through this. She's gone through this. And it comes on the heels of the, I think, August 3rd statement on the South China Sea, as well, issued by the State Department.

Q: Could you kind of outline where we're at with the -- (inaudible) -- of the new radar system in Japan and whether this might come up?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. You know, Japan is an important partner on ballistic missile defense. We continue to sort of work closely with them on a range of issues on this matter.

Mr. Little made the comment directly to the -- to the Wall Street Journal on this issue.

So I think, sort of -- I don't have anything more to add here -- here on this issue other than to say it's an important -- Japan's an important partner and we continue to work closely with them.

Q: The key -- the key issue that Mr. Little was referring to was North Korea being the main concern about the threat of -- (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. We -- nothing to add on that. Mr. Little's comment stands.

Q: (inaudible) -- that China's defense minister made a rare visit to India? And you know U.S. has been pushing China -- (inaudible) -- to improve their military-to-military and defense relationship. In that context, how do you see the visit of China, China's defense minister to India and will increase the interaction among their military forces?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I think the -- the basic answer is we, as I said in the opening statement, we welcome and encourage increased military cooperation throughout the region.

And I think that India -- you know, my -- my view here is that, you know, India, New Delhi and Beijing working closely on issues of security, as well as other economic and political issues, is -- is a good thing and very important and something we want to encourage.

So we've said all along in the -- the administration and the Department of Defense that this is, you know, a -- a -- a strategy, the rebalancing strategy, about a system, maintaining a system that promotes peace and prosperity, that -- that -- that we've been working at for, you know, several decades, and exchanges like this, interactions like this deepening and strengthening those types of bilateral relationships is a good thing.

Q: I know you mentioned there's a separate strategic security dialogue, but just to clarify, is there any discussion of nuclear forces on the agenda for this China visit?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Well, as -- as [Senior Defense Official One] said, we're not going to prejudge what -- what specifically may come up.

However, I mean, we've talked to the Chinese in the past, and I'm sure it'll -- it'll continue to come up again in the future about the need to be able to have sustained dialogue not only in a joint military and civilian platform, but also military-to-military dialogue across a range of issues in the U.S.-China relationship and to address some of the questions that we have about their military modernization, which includes the nuclear forces.

Q: Maybe you can help me understand the U.S. point of view on this, but is there a need to negate all of China's nuclear forces, do we need that capability, or is mutual nuclear vulnerability sort of a fact of life for both countries?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I think I would refer you to the Nuclear Posture Review that, I think, does a very clear articulation of U.S. policy and our perspective on that.

Q: Follow up. Can you say a little more clearly what the two meetings, the strategic dialogue, have accomplished or what was talked about in them, where we are now, and then what -- so what -- what, more specifically, are the questions left behind on the nuclear?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Because State Department is the lead in the Strategic Security Dialogue, I have to refer you to the Department of State on that. Plus, we're here to talk about the -- Secretary Panetta's upcoming Asia trip.

Q: Wasn't -- wasn't what Secretary Gates was asking for was a military-to-military strategic dialogue? So the idea that it's being led by the State Department and the Pentagon is participating in it is not really what the U.S. has been seeking here. Am I wrong or right about that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I think you could take a look at the transcripts from Secretary Gates' visit and he was talking specifically about joint military and civilian dialogue.

Now, we have had military-to-military dialogue on these issues, but what Secretary Gates was talking about at that time was a joint military and civilian dialogue, which is what we have.

Q: So you're perfectly satisfied with the level of military-to-military dialogue you have with the Chinese?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: That's a -- that's a different question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: We're -- look, we're always looking to find ways to improve our military-to-military relationship with China. It -- you know, this is a relationship that has in the past been -- been characterized by a lot of ups and downs, an on-again, off-again cycle that reflected a lack of a -- of a solid foundation, a foundation that's sufficient to weather the type of turbulence that's natural in a relationship that's as broad, as complex as the one that we have with China.

We're not there yet in terms of where we'd like to be in our military-to-military relationship. But visits like the one that Secretary Panetta's going to have next week sustains the forward progress that we've been able to make over the past several months and even several years towards developing the type of relationship that is sustained in substantive dialogue, one where we can explore areas to -- where we can explore areas where we can expand our cooperation in areas of mutual interest, to where we can work together to -- tackle the types of transnational threats that we see in the region that really affect the interests of all nations, but really can't be solved by any one nation alone; to get a better understanding of where the PLA is today and where it's going to be going in the future; and, again, to have sustained engagement at high levels to build common views on the international security environment and regional security challenges.

That's the vision that we have, and visits like the one next week are part and parcel of our effort to build towards that.

Q: (inaudible) -- from Japanese -- (inaudible).

One of the main issues Japanese side would like to talk about is the deployment of Osprey -- (inaudible). And the Japanese defense minister recently publicly suggested that they're kind of hoping that the United States will agree on postpone the deployment schedule.

I was just wondering, is there any chance that in that meeting -- is there any chance to reach any sort of agreement between United States and Japan on that deployment schedule?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Let me just say, there's never been a deployment schedule. The -- the -- the point here, as Deputy Secretary Carter made clear in Tokyo, is -- when he gave his public interviews -- is that the issue is safety. And this -- this entire process has been about reconfirming the safety of the Osprey. And that's been articulated several times in public statements here at the Pentagon; in Tokyo, I think by the secretary of state; and then followed up by the deputy secretary of [defense].

So that's been the issue. The issue has always been reconfirming the safety. And to that end, we've had, you know, a lengthy, robust, collaborative, constructive process that has really, I think, you know, basically led to a great deal of understanding, transparency, and made -- made -- helped us make a lot of progress on this issue.

So I think overall the issue, again, it's about safety. I think we're in a good exchange with the highest levels of both governments on this issue, and look forward to making even more progress in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Q: On a related note, was the secretary invited to Japan specifically to discuss the Osprey issue?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: You know, I would just say, the secretary, you know, we -- we have a longstanding tradition of -- of trying to get to -- to our allies as part of these Northeast Asia swings. I think that is just part and parcel of that. It's, you know, we -- we -- we were in the region and, of course, we wanted to stop and have deep and constructive consultations with a key ally.

Q: So there's no specific agenda for the meetings? They're just going to talk about whatever?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I'm not going to get into what -- you know, you're asking me to sort of pre-judge what the secretary is going to say and I'm not going to go into that here.

I'm just saying that, look, we constantly -- we have a very good, close collaborative relationship with the government of Japan. This visit is very much part and parcel of that relationship and continues the forward progress on just a range of bilateral issues that we have with the government.

STAFF: We have time for just a couple more --

Q: Yeah, you said there's never been a deployment schedule. But we've been told over and over again, both Marines and from that platform up there, that they wanted to move the 12 Ospreys from Iwakuni to Okinawa sometime this month and they wanted them up and flying in October. That sounds like a schedule. You say there is no schedule?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: The issue on -- in the negotiations has always been -- and, look, I'll just refer back to what the deputy secretary said, and he's, I think, the most dispostive view on this. And it was during his trip to Tokyo in late July, early August.

And he said very clearly that the issue is safety; and the governments have to reach an agreement on reconfirming the safety of this issue. That has been what this process has been all about. That's what he's said publicly, and we've -- there's been nothing, you know, that I've seen to change the deputy secretary's position on this view.

Q: But there is a possibility that they won't be there next month?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Again, the issue -- you know, this is -- it's sort of very similar to the questions he got when he was in Tokyo, this exchange. And go back to the transcript. But his answer was very, you know, very clear. It was the issue is safety and we need to reconfirm the -- the issue of safety. And we've put that out a number of times in press statements as well as interviews by the deputy secretary of defense.

STAFF: (off mic)

Q: Yes. The way that you had phrased the questions -- (inaudible) -- the response, rather, was, you know, sort of, "We were gonna be in the region," you know, like, we're in the neighborhood. So -- so was all three stops originally part of the agenda or the secretary's trip? And if not, you know, can you describe why any changes have been made?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: No, I mean -- you know, look, we're putting -- we put together pieces. The China piece was always, you know, the -- the driver here, right. You know, we had -- General Liang extended an invitation. I was, you know, not very careful with my language, quite frankly.

But, you know, General Liang extended an invitation to the secretary in May, I believe. We were going -- so we knew we were going to China at one point, so then you're building out from there. And that's sort of what -- you know, you're sort of in the scheduling hydraulics here, and that's basically, you know, the reason behind it.

And, look, I mean, we -- we are constantly looking, like I -- as I said, for engagement with both Japan, South Korea, Australia, all of our treaty allies in the region.

STAFF: (off mic)

Q: I -- I got just a couple of schedule questions and one on Japan. On the schedule, are there any remarks, any public remarks scheduled on this trip? And then --

STAFF: (inaudible) -- schedule as we get closer to -- (inaudible).

Q: Okay. And then -- and then back on this Osprey issue with Japan. Are you -- is it your anticipation, for example, at the end of this -- the meetings in Japan -- are you hoping to be -- it's been said you're on track on the deployment. But are you going to -- do you anticipate being on track for actual operations? Does it mean you're anticipating being able to announce at the end of this trip, or do you have a goal like that in mind?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I think, you know, we're just going to keep working through these issues, you know. We have, you know, the joint committee in Japan. U.S. and government of Japan officials meet frequently on this issue and continue to work through these issues of safety.

So, you know, I think that that -- that's where this process is in many respects. It's in the joint committee at this point in time.

STAFF: Thank you all very much.


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