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Media Availability with Secretary Gates from Hanoi, Vietnam

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
October 11, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I don’t want to delay folks -- I don’t want to delay folks from dinner and a nap.  It’s been a very full day that began with a good conversation with the Japanese defense minister. 

                We talked about, as you might expect, Guam, Okinawa, Futenma and I talked about the intricate connection between Futenma and Guam and how they need to remain linked and the need to move forward.  They have already provided almost $800 million for construction on Guam and so we talked about the next steps there.  And we talked about host nation support and it’s an issue that they’re working within their government.  So I felt it was a good, positive discussion. 

                I had a good meeting with both the prime minister and defense minister here in Vietnam and really talked about the full range of bilateral military relations and how we can expand those relationships in a number of different areas.  We went through some of that in the press conference, but the defense security dialogue, maritime security, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and search and rescue.

                And then we talked about some additional areas such as a formal relationship between National Defense University and Vietnamese counterpart, more exchanges in professional military education and so on.  And we talked a little bit about the meeting tomorrow, and then finally, the meeting with General Liang.  I would say that it was a constructive meeting.  It was conducted in a friendly spirit. 

                General Liang did invite me to come to China and I agreed.  We still have to work out the timing.  We talked about a number of areas where we could strengthen the military-to-military relationship.  And I outlined to him why I believe this is important that indeed when there are disagreements, it’s all the more important to talk with one another more not less, and the need for strategic dialogue on everything from nuclear weapons and strategy to missile defense, outer space security and more as well as areas in which we can cooperate.  So I felt like it was a good forward step and we’ll see how it plays out.

                Q     When you met with General Liang, did the subject of Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, East China Sea come up?  And to what did extent did that topic come up in your meetings with the other countries today -- kind of looking for how much they’re looking for your help?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that it did not come up specifically in the meeting with General Liang.  I think that it’s clearly on everybody’s mind and falls within the rubric of maritime security.  And of course, our approach is, as I outlined this afternoon in the press conference with Minister Thanh, but it did not come up specifically in my meeting with the Vietnamese defense minister and did not come up with General Liang. 

                Q     And with Japan?

                SEC. GATES:  That was so long ago, I don’t -- I don’t think so. 

                Q     But the whole China/Japan shipping thing and the --

                SEC. GATES:  That really didn’t --

                Q     Minister Kitazawa did thank you for your statements in Washington the other week but that wasn’t necessarily the extent of it.

                SEC. GATES:  But that was really the only reference.

                Q     Can you explain if the reason why it didn’t come up has to do with this kind of difficult balancing act that we’re seeing here where you’re obviously trying to close ranks with Vietnam and some others, but you don’t -- you also want to improve relations with the Chinese.  Is that why we see this issue not being raised so directly this time?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think there’s a particular sensitivity throughout the region that tomorrow’s meeting goes well and be seen as a constructive and collaborative step forward.  I think it remains to be seen in the meeting the direction in which any discussion of maritime security goes.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

                Q     In terms of the U.S., particularly you deciding not to mention this issue in the two bilats today, or three bilats today, was that --

                SEC. GATES:  But we’ll just see how tomorrow goes.

                Q     But even within the construct of maritime security which you said is a phrase everybody understand what it means.  Did you discuss your perspective, America’s perspective on what China’s obligations are as a stakeholder, as a global power trying to appeal to their sense of self-interest, a behavior that the U.S. and its Asian allies might seek to have?

                SEC. GATES:  No.

                Q     Do you didn’t make the case at all for what China should do or --

                SEC. GATES:  Not in the meeting this afternoon.

                Q     Is it significant that the fact that all these countries including the United States are at this table?  Obviously there’s a desire among the Vietnamese and others to have us part of the discussion and I think that’s an idea of them looking to China and saying, we want that balancing power that the United States has always provided.  It is significant that both the Chinese and Americans are here in this kind of multilateral forum that --

                SEC. GATES:  I think it is.  And frankly, I was the first of the eight defense ministers to accept coming to this meeting.  And I felt that it had a twofold purpose.  And I said, yes, as soon as General Thanh asked me many months ago at this point. 

                First was I thought it sent an important signal to Vietnam and to ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] that we were willing to participate; and second, I thought it offered an opportunity to sit down with these nations and China and begin to address these issues in a collective way.  And we will -- I think, Geoff, the plan is to provide folks with a copy of my intervention tomorrow morning.  So that will probably answer some of the questions you’ve been asking.

                Q     Just a follow up --

                Q     So you’re saving something for tomorrow, in other words?

                SEC. GATES:  I’m just waiting until tomorrow.  (Laughs.)

                Q     Is part of it to get China to see his lessons as sort of a zero-sum game that your relationship, our relationship with some of these countries does not have to mean that we’re hedging against them or that it’s aimed against them, is there?  Are you making any progress in that?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, partly we haven’t because we haven’t had any kind of military-to-military relationship for some period of time now, there hasn’t been much of an occasion to make that case.  I absolutely believe that’s the case, that this is not a zero-sum game.  I think that we have a lot of common interests out here among all of the nations who are participating, common concerns and common interests. 

                And this ADMM-Plus [Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus] offers the opportunity to begin talking about those issues in that kind of a context of how do we pull together to deal with some of these challenges that we face.  And that’s -- again, that’s why I accepted this invitation as promptly as I did is because I saw it as an opportunity. 

                And to be quite frank about it, it occurred to me that if the American secretary of defense -- if others knew the American secretary of defense was coming, maybe they’d come too.  And I think that’s largely proven to be the case -- maybe not because I’m here, but at least they came.

                Q     Where do you think the U.S.-China military relationship will be in five years?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, what I told Minister Liang is that I have felt for a long time that the dialogue between the two militaries ought to be sustainable regardless of the ups and downs in the relationship, that having greater clarity and understanding of each other is essential to preventing mistrust, miscalculations and mistakes.  I believed it in the dialogue with the Soviet Union over 30 years.  I believe it’s important with China as well. 

                And I hope -- and I gave up my crystal ball when I left CIA -- so my hope is that in five years you will see a very intense and ambitious relationship between the American and Chinese militaries that would include a lot of joint exercises, exchanges in our military academies, visits, working together on problems like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  We all have a common interest in freedom of navigation.  I mean, given the magnitude of China’s imports of raw materials and energy, we have a shared interest in freedom of navigation and access to the maritime domain. 

                So I think -- my hope would be that we would come to a common -- we can come to a common understanding of our mutual interest and work together in these areas.  And I hope it doesn’t take five years.

                Q     Mr. Secretary, there are a lot of friction points in the U.S.-China relationship besides -- there’s the currency issue, there’s the -- there are other aspects.  How important do you think the military failure to kind of create this dialogue -- how important a problem -- where do you see it ranking on the overall scale of problems?

                SEC. GATES:  The way I would put it is that it is clear that the political leadership of both countries, both President Obama and President Hu Jintao, believe that the military-to-military relationship is an underdeveloped part of the overall relationship between the United States and China.  And they’ve both given pretty clear direction to try to improve it.  And I think that’s what -- my hope is that today’s meeting will inaugurate that process.

                MR. GEOFF MORRELL (Pentagon Press Secretary):  One more, Dan.

                Q     Yes.  Sorry.  Just on the -- I know you can’t describe the Chinese point of view, but you’ve made this argument now for some time about why a reliable, consistent dialogue is so healthy and so important.  Do you feel like you’re making a little headway?  Is Taiwan, this issue -- it just seems to be the knot that can’t be undone.

                SEC. GATES:  Well, you know, one of the things that I think is important for people to remember is that I’ve watched this relationship since the early ‘70s on the National Security Council.  And in fact, I went through this history with General Liang this afternoon.  I was in the White House.  I was there after the original visit to China but during the Scowcroft and Kissinger period.  I was there with Brzezinski when normalization took place.  I was there when Deng Xiaoping visited the White House.  I was part of the initial effort to create a security relationship with the Chinese at the end of 1979 or early 1980.  So I watched this relationship for a long time, and the reality is the Secretary of Defense does not make decisions with respect to Taiwan arms sales.  It is fundamentally a political decision.  And why the military relationship should be held hostage to what is essentially a political decision seems to me curious.  And I believe it should not be. If there is a discussion to be had, it is at the political level. 

                Q     Do you feel like you are making headway?

                SEC. GATES:  We’ll see.

                MR. MORRELL:  Time for one question from Japanese (inaudible).

                Q     Do you feel like (inaudible) --

                MR. MORRELL: I think he just answered that with “we’ll see”.

                (Laughter.)

                SEC. GATES:  (laughs) OK. Thanks.

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