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Media Availability with Secretary Gates en route to Singapore

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
June 03, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  This will be my fourth Shangri-La visit.  I think that I'm going to begin reconsidering coming to these.  Before last year's, I'm reminded that the North Koreans at least fizzled a nuclear device.  This time they've sunk a South Korean ship.  So maybe we ought to stop holding these meetings as an opportunity for the North.                

                But all kidding aside, an important element this time will be to reassure the South Koreans of our support as they face these provocations and a North that seems even more unpredictable than usual.               

                It's obviously a chance to touch base with a number of other partner countries that are of growing importance to us:  India, the Vietnamese, the Indonesians, the Mongolians and others.                

                A big part is my hope that we'll be able to repeat what we did last year in terms of the trilateral with the Japanese and the Koreans.  I think we all have a lot to talk about at this point.  And so it looks like a pretty full agenda, a lot of bilateral meetings and then, obviously, the speech.                

                So why don't I stop there and open it up.               

                Yeah, Anne?               

                Q     (Off mike.)               

                SEC. GATES:  There is -- I'm not aware of a plan to send a carrier to the waters off of South Korea.                

                We are conducting regular exercises with the South Koreans and some additional exercises are being discussed, but no decisions have been made.  But I'm not aware that any of those plans include an aircraft carrier.               

                Q     Can you elaborate on what other exercises are being considered?  (Off mike.)               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, there are various kinds of shows of force, from an anti-submarine warfare exercise to others.  But as I say, these are all just under consideration in Washington and in Seoul at this point.               

                Q     Mr. Secretary, are any of these extraordinary, or were all of these prescheduled exercises?               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, we have a regular schedule of exercises with the South Koreans.  But the exercises that I'm -- that are being discussed in Washington and between Washington and Seoul would be some additional exercises beyond the routine exercises.               

                Q     Just to ask you about the Israeli raid, have you spoken to your counterparts in Israel or Turkey about it?  And are you concerned about the effect of the raid on the administration's efforts to impose sanctions on Iran?               

                SEC. GATES:  I have not spoken to my counterparts in either Turkey or Israel.  The whole issue is of concern for us on a couple of levels.               

                First of all, any time there's a conflict that involves two good friends, it's difficult.  And I think the key here, just to echo, I think, Secretary Clinton's comments, that I think something that would be very helpful, especially from the Israelis' point of view, would be, if there's an investigation, to have some international component to it, to add credibility to the outside world.               

                Q     Sir, we were expecting you possibly to be going to China on this trip.  Can you explain whether or not you view China's decision not to have you come at this time as a snub, maybe a polite snub?  And what do you make of what China is doing?               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, the way I see it, is that earlier this year President Obama and President Hu talked about the desirability of strengthened military-to-military ties between China and the United States.               

                I had visited China early in my tenure, and in terms of keeping the relationship on an even keel, determined that it would be inappropriate for me to return to China until a similarly high-level Chinese military official visited Washington.  That took place last winter, at which time I was issued an invitation.               

                What seems clear to me is that, as sought by President Hu and President Obama, nearly all of the aspects of the relationship between the United States and China are moving forward in a positive direction, with the sole exception of the military-to-military relationship.  And whether this is the result of pushback by the PLA or there is some other factor, it's very difficult for us to tell.                

                I wanted -- we'd been hearing hints for, in sort of sideline comments, that the visit was not likely to take place for some weeks.  But I wanted to wait until the security and economic dialogue to learn directly and officially from the Chinese that this would not be a good time for me to come.               

                I did not want to take a step that made it look like I was canceling the visit, and so I waited until we got something more official from the Chinese side.               

                I'm disappointed only in the sense that I think that a more open dialogue with the Chinese about our military modernization programs, about our strategic view of the world, is a constructive and helpful thing in a relationship between two great nations.               

                We have had such a dialogue with Russia for over 30 years, and I think it helps to prevent miscalculations and misunderstandings, and creates opportunities for cooperation.               

                So I'm disappointed that the PLA leadership has not seen the same potential benefits from this kind of a military-to-military relationship, as their own leadership and the United States seem to think would be of benefit.              

                So we'll just wait and see.               

                Q     (Off mike) -- given your anticipated prominence of the issue of North Korea/South Korea, and given China's close relationship with the North, the fact that you're not -- you're going all the way to the Singapore and you're going to meet with the Japanese, you're going to be meeting with the South Koreans, but you're not going to be meeting with the Chinese, who are so instrumental.               

                Does that hamstring your efforts to try to work out any arrangements with how to deal with the North?               

                SEC. GATES:  No, I don't think so.  Our diplomacy with the Chinese with respect to the Iranian resolution has not been hampered by face-to-face -- the absence of a face-to-face contact.  So I don't think it'll make that big a difference.               

                Q     (Off mike) -- been of any help either, in the case of the Iranian -- so you don't think having the face-to-face contact that the Chinese withdrew would be helpful in dealing with this --               

                SEC. GATES:  I think having a conversation with the Chinese about North Korea would be helpful.  I think it's one of the aspects of this broader strategic relationship that would be beneficial.  But we're not interested if they're not interested.               

                Yeah.               

                Q     (Off mike) -- Japanese prime minister resignation.  So what does it mean for -- (inaudible) -- what kind of thing do you -- would you like to ask to the next prime minister in terms of the -- (inaudible) -- and the Futenma issue?               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that the factors behind the prime minister's resignation were not limited to Futenma.  The best I can tell, a number of domestic issues were associated as well.               

                I think the important thing to underscore is we are in the midst of the 50th anniversary of the mutual security treaty.  This is a great year for the Japanese-U.S. security relationship.               

                And I think that the sinking of the South Korean ship by the North simply underscores for everybody that there are security challenges in Northeast Asia and, therefore, the importance of the security relationship between the United States and Japan.               

                And so obviously my hope would be that any new prime minister would speak to the importance of that relationship early on.               

                Q     (Off mike) -- the two-plus-two statement.  The local government of Japan Okinawa is proposing that statement.  Do you think the U.S. and Japan still can implement -- are you confident we can implement the two-plus-two statement?  And in fact, which future way should the alliance move to?               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think -- first of all, I think we -- the Japanese side would not have signed on to the statement if they didn't think they could implement it.                

                I think the key here is, again, what I just said, to highlight the importance in an unsettled time and in an unsettled area, region, the importance of the Japanese-U.S. security relationship.               

                By the same token, I think we have to be sensitive to some of the concerns that have been expressed by the Japanese in terms of training and noise and some of those things.  And we will be working with the Japanese to see if there are ways to mitigate that, to be sensitive to some of the problems that they've encountered.               

                Q     Mr. Secretary, you kind of joked at the beginning, a little tongue-in-cheek, about North Korea's provocations being perhaps linked to the Singapore security conference.  I understand you were joking.               

                But is there an element of frustration on your part?  You go to these meetings -- what needs to change?  If you keep coming to security conferences and crises like the one we've seen unfold keep unfolding, what's the point of these gatherings and what needs to change in a realistic way in these dialogues?  What kind of commitments do we need to see from other partners?               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think these meetings are more about getting a deeper understanding of positions of other countries and their thinking on these issues, as it is to try and solve problems.                

                In many respects, these international conferences, whether it's this conference or -- (inaudible) -- or some of the others, or even a lot of ministerial meetings, are not really geared toward solving problems, but rather getting a better appreciation of where other countries stand on these issues, that then gives you something to work with to try and solve the problems.               

                The time pressures, the length of the meetings, and so on make it very tough to have a protracted negotiation or get into the details of some of these problems.  I think the value is more -- first of all, I think there is value -- it's kind of a Woody Allen line, but I think there's value in just showing up.  I think it's a gesture of respect for our friends and partners in the region.  It is a long way.                

                And the fact that we're here I think is testimony of the United States continuing interests in Asia, not only our interest, but our interests that we have here, that we are a Pacific power and intend to remain a power in the Pacific.  And I think communicating that signal is important in and of itself, and that's the kind of thing that has to be done in person.               

                But I think you establish the kind of personal relationships that then allows you to pick up the phone, or when you have a bilateral meeting in Washington or in a capital, that allows you to address these problems more effectively.               

                STAFF:  Okay, maybe one or two more?  (Inaudible.)               

                Q     If I could follow up on China.  To what degree do you think the reluctance of the PLA to engage in this further military-to-military relationship is due primarily to the arms sales to Taiwan, and how much of it is a broader reluctance on their part?               

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it's both, probably.  I think they are reluctant to engage with us on a broad level.                

                As I'll say in my speech, the Taiwan arms sales issue is far from new in this relationship.  It was one of the -- it certainly wasn't one of the three communiqués with the Chinese at the time of normalization, but it was central to our ability at go forward with normalization.                

                And 1979 was the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act, which mandated that the United States maintain the defenses of Taiwan.  And we have sold weapons to Taiwan ever since.  This is not new news to the Chinese.  And the sales under the Bush administration and under the Obama administration, in both cases, were carefully calibrated to keep them on the defensive side.                

                And so it depends on whether the Chinese want to make a big deal out of it or not.  But the reality is these arms sales go back to the beginning of the relationship and were one of the conditions that came through the Congress and -- as part of the normalization process.  And it's been there for over a generation.                

                It has not inhibited the development of the political and economic relationship.  If they want to single out the military side of the relationship as the place where they want to play this out, then so be it.  But it has not impeded the development of the relationship in other areas.               

                And so when President Obama and President Hu talk about a military-to-military relationship that is, quote/unquote, "sustainable and reliable," I think they mean a relationship that doesn't move in fits and starts and isn't affected by every change in the political weather.              

                And I -- that's where I would like to see this relationship go.               

                Q     Are you suggesting -- that there's a divide between the PLA's views on this and the political leadership in China that -- (inaudible)?               

                SEC. GATES:  I would just express it as my opinion that the PLA is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership of the country.               

                Q     Do you take that personally, if you say the relationship is advancing in any other --               

                SEC. GATES:  I don't take it personally.  Nothing in this is personal.  I've been dealing with these guys since 1980.  I was in the White House when we normalized relations.  I've been to China a number of times.  It is what it is.               

                Did you have one last one --               

                Q     (Off mike.)               

                SEC. GATES:  No, but I think the way forward now -- and as I say, we need to think a little harder on our side about some things we can do to mitigate some of the concerns the Japanese have, whether it's noise, whether it's doing some training elsewhere.                

                We're going to be looking at those kinds of things, but now we need to figure out how to move forward.               

                STAFF:  Okay?  Thank you. 

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