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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Takes Questions From Chinese Cadets

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

BEIJING, Sept. 20, 2012 – Two very different military traditions briefly converged here yesterday when Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, following a speech at the People’s Liberation Army’s Armored Forces Engineering Academy, opened the floor to questions from cadets and officers in the audience.

As the audience waited for Panetta’s arrival – his schedule had been pushed back when his earlier meeting with Vice President Xi Jinping went longer than planned – the trim, green-uniformed young men sat quietly in rows of auditorium seating rising sharply from floor level to perhaps three stories in height. When Panetta appeared, walking down the steps from the top of the auditorium toward the stage, they broke into sustained applause.

The young Chinese soldiers peppered Panetta, the first U.S. defense secretary ever to visit the academy, with questions on topics ranging from how the two nations’ forces can work more closely to Taiwan arms sales to his impressions of the Chinese military.

To the first question, Panetta said he believes two nations’ militaries can work together in several ways. He added that senior leader interaction is the best lead-in to such cooperation, and is “very effective at improving relations.”

“There is noting better to produce cooperation than the ability to openly communicate with one another on an equal basis,” he continued.

Secondly, he said, increasing joint training exercises between U.S. and Chinese armies, navies and air forces could improve the capabilities of both nations’ forces. “It gives us lessons about how we can improve in our operations,” the secretary added, noting that as Pacific powers, both the United States and China share concerns about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, countering piracy and other issues.

The two militaries’ ability to work together against terrorism is critical to the future, Panetta said, while cooperating to help people stricken by disaster “would be a tremendous symbol to the world of how two major powers can work together to help bring relief.”

On the question of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Panetta said the issue was discussed during his meetings with Chinese leaders here this week.

Joint communiqués issued in 1972, 1979 and 1982 outline policy agreements between the United States and China and include both countries’ agreement to a “one-China” policy. In the third communiqué, the United States agreed to a gradual reduction of arms sales to Taiwan.

“Let me make clear that the United States has a one-China policy, pursuant to the communiqués, … and that we do not support an independent Taiwan,” Panetta said.

At the same time, he added, the Unites States supports better relations between China and Taiwan.

“Frankly, we have been encouraged by recent developments between China and Taiwan that indicate there is a willingness on both sides to engage in efforts to improve that relationship,” he said.

Panetta said the United States does have a commitment to assist Taiwan, as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

“Our belief is that this assistance, in some ways, provides better confidence and security on their part to be able to engage [with China] in those kinds of negotiations and discussions. … Our goal is to try to improve the relationship between China and Taiwan … to prevent any kind of conflict in the future,” the secretary told the cadets and officers.

Another question sought Panetta’s impressions of China’s military, and the man in charge of the nearly 3 million active and reserve U.S service members seemed to warm to the topic.

“In order to have an effective military, you have to have good discipline and good order, and you have to have good leadership,” he said. “The one thing I am impressed by when I see the Chinese military is the level of discipline … within the force. That’s extremely important.”

Many officers who work with him in the Pentagon have a lot of combat experience, the secretary noted. He added they would say “the most important thing, if you are in battle, is having that discipline – to be able to respond to orders, to do what you have to do … to achieve victory.”

Strong leaders also are vital to military mission accomplishment, he said.

“That means good officers, good [noncommissioned officers], good soldiers, … good people at every level, who can take control of those they are responsible for,” he said.

Just like China, he added, the United State has great weapons, ships, aircraft and technology.

“But none of that would be worth anything without good men and women who are willing to serve their country. … From what I have seen, you have that good discipline and order,” Panetta said.

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