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Media Availability with Secretary Carter En Route to Singapore

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
May 27, 2015
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: (in progress). As always, thank you for coming. Appreciate your coming along. We just did the change -- did the change of command ceremony for Sam Locklear. Forty-three amazing years as contributor to the security of the United States. And Harry Harris -- to take his -- okay.

(off mic)

SEC. CARTER: You got it?

(off mic)

SEC. CARTER: And so for me, this -- stopping at Sam's retirement is the beginning of the second trip to this region I've made since I've been secretary of defense. And there's a reason for that, which is the fundamental importance of the Asia-Pacific to the American future and the human future. Half of the population of the planet, half of the economy of the planet, and a lot of what will determine America's future out here. So it's not a region that's in the headlines all the time, thank goodness, because of its fundamental importance. But there's a reason for that, and the reason for that is the role that the United States has played here for 70 years.

And that is -- that role and the continuation of that role is the basic theme of this trip. And will be the basic theme of the speech I make in a day-and-a-half at the Shangri-La Dialogue. Say a little something about Shangri-La; I was at the very first Shangri-La, which was 2002, I believe, when the IISS [International Institute for Strategic Studies], which is the sponsoring organization, first convened it. The idea being to be an Asia-Pacific analog to the Munich Security Conference that's held in early February every year. And that was just an aspiration, I guess, of IISS in that day.

But a CODEL [congressional delegation] came of distinguished members. We have a CODEL coming this time of distinguished members, led by Chairman McCain, of course, who -- who has more depth of knowledge and time spent in this region that just about anybody in Washington. So it's great to have a delegation with that kind of expertise coming as well.

The -- the -- the theme of my remarks will be the long-standing and to-be-continued, pivotal American role in ensuring that the Asia-Pacific is a region in which everybody gets to rise. Everybody rises, everybody wins. That's been the history of 70 years. First Japan's economic miracle, then South Korea, Taiwan, then Southeast Asia. Today, China and India. It has been the system (inaudible) -- of inclusion and -- attention to principle that has made, has both kept the peace and kept things together in this part of the world. And it is in that climate, everyone has gotten to rise. Everyone has gotten to prosper.

And in a nutshell, the purpose of American strategy and the purpose of the American rebalance, which is a part of the military part of the rebalance strategy, is to keep that going. And that's the theme that I'll be sounding in my speech.

A particular dimension of this that's important is maritime security. It being an importantly -- not exclusively but importantly, maritime theater. And in the course of the trip, I and you, if you're with me, will have the opportunity to see that signified in a number of ways. We just stopped, of course, on an island state of the United States, which says all by itself what is true and always will be, which is we are a resident power in this part of the world.

And -- tomorrow, I guess it's tomorrow -- yes. Tomorrow, we'll go out over the Strait of Malacca, which is a remarkable thing to do. And if you haven't done it before, I strongly encourage you to do it, because it will forever engrave in your mind the sheer scale of trade that passes through these slender waterways. And therefore, the incredible importance to all the partner -- all the parties in this region that freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, and peaceful use of the commons remain as it has for 70 years, a fact undergirding the security in the area.

Likewise, later, I'll go to Vietnam, and also just to pursue the maritime theme, also to Haiphong Harbor for what I think is an unprecedented visit to both Vietnamese navy and Coast Guard commanders, installations and vessels in that harbor. And then onward to India. And not to get all ahead of the whole story; we'll have plenty of time to talk as we go along. Also, first stop there, a port, Vizag, on the eastern side. A major naval port. An Indian installation, which is important to their “act east” strategy, which is one of the ways they express their role and their residence in the Asia-Pacific theater.

So that's the purpose of the trip. That's the theme that I'll be sounding in the speech in Shangri-La. And once again, I'm very glad y'all, (inaudible), that you've taken your time and your editors have taken your money -- taken their money, rather, to send you along with us. So we're glad of it.

And with that, I'll do some questions, and I'll let Brent be the impresario here.

STAFF: Great. Thanks. I'm sure folks have some questions. Lita, you want to go first?

(off mic)

Q: Lita Baldor with AP.

Mr. Secretary, there's obviously been a lot going on with Iraq lately. The president said the other day that the U.S. is sort of relooking at how the U.S. is equipping, training and assisting the Iraqis. And I'm wondering if you can tell us what are some of the options? Is it better training? Is it better equipment? And how does that go after your concern and General Dempsey's concern that there may be a lack of will, or at least a lack of strength in vision and mission by the Iraqis?

SEC. CARTER: Sure. Lita, one of the last things I did before I left Washington was exactly meet with my team and ask them how can we -- what can we do to enhance the effect of this, of the train-and-equip, so-called line of effort? If you're familiar with the nine lines of effort of the campaign, the events of recent weeks there have highlighted the central importance of having a capable ground partner. And that's what the purpose of our train-and-equip program is.

So we are looking -- I can't describe to you what the possibilities are because folks are looking at them right now. And by the way, I should also say that since two of the nine line of efforts are our responsibility, the air campaign and train and equip, there are seven others that are very important. Political and other lines of effort also. And I know that Secretary of State Kerry and his team are looking at the lines of effort that they're responsible for as well.

So we can try to, across the political side and the -- the military side, do everything we can to think of to increase the effectiveness of the campaign.

Q: Well how does that affect their will (inaudible).

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think training and equipment affect the effectiveness of the forces and therefore their ability to operate, their confidence, and their ability to operate. So there's a direct relationship.

STAFF: Thank you. If I could just follow up on this. This is Gordon from the "Wall Street Journal."

Could you kind of expand on that a little bit? Because your comments the other day seemed to amount to what some saw as like a public shaming of the Iraqis in their will to fight. Some people I've talked to suggest that's actually been effective, and that's a good thing for -- kind of jolted the Iraqis.

But what do you need to see from where you sit that they need to do before you're willing to kind of do some of these other things that potentially are out there, in your line of thinking?

SEC. CARTER: Well, we're doing training and equipping right now. So what I was talking about in response to the previous question was our looking at whether the raise that we can enhance, hasten, train and equip. I think one particular way that's extremely important is to involve the Sunni tribes in the fight. That means training and equipping them. So those are the kinds of things that the team back home is looking at.

Q: But would you like to see the Iraqis do something, demonstrate a stronger will to fight or do something that would give you the confidence to make recommendations to deepen the involvement.

SEC. CARTER: Well, Prime Minister Abadi is working very hard to bring together the different parts of Iraq behind exactly what he and we agree is the best approach for -- which is a multi-sectarian Iraq, with a multi-sectarian ground force defeating ISIL and defending Iraqi sovereignty and territory. All those forces under the command and control of the Iraqi government. So we have -- that is our common objective, and everything that we do in the way of train and equip is in service of that common objective.

Q: Matt Rosenberg from The New York Times.

I am going to ask about Asia since we're heading there.

You know, I've noticed in the speech today and now here, the theme is, you know, American kind of hegemony and -- or power in Asia for 70 years has kept the peace and made it prosperous. And it doesn't seem the Chinese entirely agree with that point.

How do you reassure them the moves we're making, renewing, kind of putting more combat power in Singapore, and these four littoral ships have been (inaudible), and other kind of measures around a trip of various Naval bases, that this isn't an aggressive maneuver meant to kind of box them in, because that does seem to be how they're viewing it to a degree.

I don't want to oversimplify here, but it does seem to be, you have people who don't agree.

SEC. CARTER: Well, the American approach for 70 years has been one which is first of all grounded in the values of participation by everyone and security and prosperity for everyone. So that is what the United States has stood for in the region. And what the rebalance is about, is basically helping to keep a security system which has not been a purely American one. It has been a system of friends and allies and inclusiveness, keeping that system going, to include China. Which we, just to remind you, invite to joint exercises. We have very important ties to -- ties which by the way I hope we're able to strengthen between our military and the Chinese military.

We work with the Chinese military, along with lots of other militaries in the region on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief.

I mean, just look at the response in Nepal, for example. I mean, there was a situation where you had countries, many of them security partners of the United States. In fact I think all of them security partners of the United States, including China, which has trained with us for exactly circumstances like that. Many of them operating U.S. equipment, also provided that same way.

So whether it's refugees and trafficking, natural disasters, counternarcotics, counterterrorism, there are lots of things that plague this region of the world like they do others. And our system and our approach has always been one that is inclusive, and that's when I say, what we stand for is a system in which everybody wins. That's not a hegemonic system; that is a system in which everybody wins and everybody participates.

Q: Thanks. David Alexander from Reuters.

The U.S. has very sort of publicly called out China over this land reclamation issue a couple of times in the last week. The P-8 flight, and then your remarks today for example.

Can you explain a little bit what was the decision behind going in that direction?

Was there a sense that they had reached a tipping point at the land reclamation, that it was going to become a problem after this, you know, at some point?

SEC. CARTER: Well, neither the fact of an American flight, P-8 flight, over the South China Sea, nor the positions that I described earlier today are new facts. We've been flying over the South China Sea for years and years and years, and as I indicated today, we'll continue to do that -- fly, navigate, operate. So that's not a new fact.

And likewise, that it's our intent to do so and that we do not support the -- and oppose the militarization, the unilateral reclamation and so forth of territory in the South China Sea. That's not new either.

The new facts are the reclamation and the scale on which it is being done, and that's not an American fact; that's a Chinese fact.

STAFF: We've got time for two more here, so...

Q: David Lynch with Bloomberg.

I want to follow up on that a little bit and stay in the South China Sea.

A two-part question. First of all, you asked for options from your military commanders a little while back on how the U.S. might demonstrate its commitment to freedom and navigation, et cetera in the region. Can you make that demonstration without at some point going within 12 miles of these new islands, quote, unquote.

And second, in terms of the political dimension here, the U.S. approach publicly has been a little more direct in the last week or so, and the U.S. and Chinese position seems mutually exclusive. Chinese says these rocks are sovereign territory, just like Beijing or Shanghai. The U.S. says, they're just not. It seems like you've left China, rightly or wrongly, no off-ramp, that, in other words, they need to publicly back down. Is there any room for compromise? Any way the two sides can work something out? Or at this point does China simply need to accept the U.S. view?

SEC. CARTER: A couple of things. First, this is a situation to which many countries are party. The United States doesn't have a territorial claim, and there are several states that do have territorial claims. The United States is not among them. The reason that the United States and everyone else in the region has a stake in this, is because it gets to the question of freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, freedom from coercion, abiding by peaceful and lawful processes, and that is, again, a longstanding U.S. position, as it freedom of flying, freedom to sail.

So once again, the new facts are not created by the United States. The new facts are created by China, and one of the things I said earlier today are that the United States has called for previously also, but which is a halt, a lasting halt, to land reclamation and further militarization of these features, so we would like to see that. And again, that's not because we have a land claim there; it's because we believe in and stand for a system in which, as I'll say at Shangri-La, everybody wins, everybody rises.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. CARTER: The -- as I said earlier today, the United States will go where -- will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and the 12 nautical miles that I think you're referring to does not pertain to features that were submerged, and now are no longer submerged.

STAFF: This will be our last question.

Q: Hi, sir. Aaron Mehta with Defense News.

I just wanted to follow up on my colleagues question there, and again ask, is this an impasse, or is there room for negotiations between China and the U.S.?

And then follow that up with asking, you're talking about the partners, but by default, the U.S. and China are the big dogs. They have the gear. They have the equipment. They have the technology.

Are you looking to gear up our partner nations in region? Do you sense maritime security is going to be key? What equipment are you looking to maybe -- to speed up to give them? Are you trying to push certain gear toward them?

SEC. CARTER: Well, with respect to the first one, I think what I said today, and again, this is something that Secretary Kerry said, about a week or so ago, what we'd like to see is for -- to -- a halt, a lasting halt, to the reclamation of land, and to further militarization of these features, and to the pursuit of these issues through a lawful -- in a lawful way that is respectful of everyone's right and needs to use those waterways.

And the second part of the question was about?

Q: Which equipment do you want to see (off mic)?

SEC. CARTER: Well, as I said earlier in connection with the Nepal operation where a number of the nations that came to the aid of the Nepalese people were using U.S. equipment, we have many of our partners out here who use U.S. equipment and -- going to Singapore, and that's one, later be in India, and there too probably be discussing some of our defense technical cooperation with India, which is a big priority for the United States, a big priority for the Indian government as well, but that's true of virtually every country in the region.

STAFF: Okay, thank you guys. Enjoy your nine hours of flight time left, and if you have any follow-ups or anything, please just grab Lars or me, and thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. CARTER: All right, thank you all.

-END-