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Media Availability with Secretary Gates en route to Beijing, China from Andrews Air Force Base

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
January 08, 2011

               (Chatter.) 

              GEOFF MORRELL (press secretary, Department of Defense):  Yeah, let me make one – sorry, one point, sir.  We’re going to – we’ve got a long trip.  We’re going to be seeing you guys many, many times over the course of this trip.  So let’s confine this discussion, if we could, to China where’s there’s a lot to talk about.  We’ll get to Japan and Korea in later stages of the trip, if you guys don’t mind.

              SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES:  I’ll just – I will say kind of as opening one-liner that – I mean, obviously, the purpose of the trip is to see if we can further expand the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China, deepen it, and also visiting our allies – Japan and Republic of Korea – partly in the wake of the tensions on the Korean Peninsula last fall and the provocations from the North, but also looking for continuing efforts to strengthen those two alliances as well. 

               In China, the main purpose, as I say, is to look for ways to expand the relationship.  I think that seeing if we can come to agreement on developing a strategic dialogue that talks about strategy and policies and perhaps outlooks.  I believe for a long time that that kind of a dialogue contributes to not just greater understanding, but contributes to avoiding miscalculations and misunderstandings and miscommunication.

             We’ll also be looking at – when General Xu was in Washington I guess in November – October of ’09, we agreed on seven specific areas of cooperation – more high-level visits, more exercises, more exchanges from our professional military organizations and so on.  Most of that has been on hold ever since and so I’d like to see if we can move forward in those areas as well.  

             I think that, you know, it’s pretty clear the Chinese wanted me to come before President Hu visits Washington.  My own view is that a positive, constructive, comprehensive relationship between the United States and China is not just in the mutual interest of the two countries, it’s in the interest of everybody in the region, and I would say across the globe.  And I think certainly the president is looking forward to having President Hu in Washington, and my hope is that this visit will strengthen what I think both presidents believe is an underdeveloped part of the relationship.  From the time of their first meeting, President Hu and President Obama have wanted to see the military-to-military relationship be strengthened. 

             And, finally, I would just I would like to see this relationship go forward in a way that is sustained and reliable, that despite the ups and downs that come with any relationship that this channel – these channels remain open in our efforts together and continue to go forward.

             Q:  You sounded some of the same notes when you came here in 2007, talking about –

             SECRETARY GATES:  I remember.

             Q:  In the intervening years, what have you learned?  What do you think makes this different to prevent the ups and downs in the military-to-military relationship – (inaudible)—on again, off again?  How can you think broader?  How can you – (inaudible)?

             SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I think – first of all, I think the overall environment and atmosphere is perhaps better.  Certainly from our standpoint, we recognize that China played a constructive role in lessening tensions on the peninsula in the latter part of last year, and clearly there’s an interest in both countries of having President Hu’s visit be successful. 

            And I think, again – I’m sorry I have to repeat myself – I think that the Chinese clear desire that I come first – come to China before President Hu goes to Washington was an indication of their interest in strengthening this part of the relationship in terms of helping further set the environment and the tone for Washington.

            Q:  Just a quick follow-up.  Taiwan obviously has talked about political dignity – (inaudible) – politics and – (inaudible).  Is there a concern that – (inaudible) – they cannot understand – (inaudible) – the basic military-to-military relationship?

            SECRETARY GATES:  Well, the point that I made to General Liang in Hanoi was that that decision is a political decision and to isolate it or to confine the consequences or the reaction purely to the military arena, I think is not consistent with the nature of the decision-making itself.  And of course, as you suggest, I mean, the whole basis of this relationship is the three joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act, and I think we’ve been pretty selective over the years in ensuring that those sales were defensive in nature, but I’m sure that the topic will come up.

            Q:  Mr. Secretary – (inaudible.) –

            SECRETARY GATES:  We don’t know the answer to that question.

            Q:  (Inaudible) – China’s civilian leadership wants a better military-to-military relationship with the U.S. and are to some extent being frustrated by the Chinese military.

            SECRETARY GATES:  Well, again, I don’t know.  The – it is clear that, as I said earlier, I mean, clearly President Hu wants this to be better, just as President Obama does – the military-to-military relationship.  I mean, I can say that my meeting with General Liang in Hanoi was very cordial and I expect this to be a good visit, so in terms of the sort of the ins and outs of internal politics, I just don’t know. 

            Q:  ( Inaudible.)

            SECRETARY GATES:  I think that, you know, speaking in broad terms, I think one of our goals is to see if we can get out ahead of these periodic provocations by the North Koreans and bring greater stability to the peninsula.  We both have – we have a mutual interest in that.  And I think that the one topic for both my visit and for President Hu’s meetings with the president is how can we work together to prevent further provocations, bring greater stability, and then see if we can move forward with North Korean denuclearization and some of the other things that they could do that would open the way for further progress.

            Q:  (Inaudible.)

            SECRETARY GATES:  That’s more in Secretary Clinton’s bailiwick than mine and I think, you know, at some point that clearly is desirable, but in terms of the sequencing I’ll leave that to the secretary of state. 

            Q:  (Inaudible.)

            SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I don’t think that – I think the way I will frame it is that I think that this military-to-military relationship, as I said earlier, should be sustainable and reliable and to keep this channel open even in times when there may be political disagreements between the two countries.  That will be my approach.

            Q:  (Inaudible) – policy change on either side?  I think on a real – (inaudible) – going to break this cycle that’s been going on for the last however many years.  Why should anyone expect any kind of breakthroughs on this trip?

            SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I’m – I think that this is evolutionary and particularly the military-to-military side, and so rather than something dramatic – some kind of a dramatic breakthrough, I think just getting some things started would be a positive outcome.

            Q:  (Inaudible) – quoted in the WikiLeaks cables here – (inaudible) – documents as saying that, you know, it’s very hard to get tough with your banker.  Do you – talking about China.  Do you have – is that – would you agree overall with that and because the Chinese have said that in some quarters they see us as a declining power because of our financial crisis, does that change the nature of the talks with the Chinese from 2007 to now?

            SECRETARY GATES:  Certainly not from my standpoint.  My – I make the broader point with people because I’ve watched this sort of cyclical view of American decline come around two or three times, perhaps most dramatically in the latter half of the 1970s.  And my general line for those both at home and around the world who think the U.S. is in decline – that history’s dustbin is filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.  And I think that – I mean, the economic relationship between the United States and China is mutually beneficial.  It’s not a one-way street.  And so I think both countries have an interest in keeping that stable and going forward.  So I – that kind of thing doesn’t – you know, the – that kind of thing really doesn’t much enter into in my thinking.

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, would you consider the sale of U.S. helicopters – non-military variety of helicopters to China if they asked?

            SECRETARY GATES:  That’s the first I’ve ever heard of it, so I would have to –

            Q:  They’ve said they want to buy certain kinds of dual-use helicopters – (inaudible).

           SECRETARY GATES:  I’d have to look at it.  I just – I don’t want to answer just off the top of my head.

           Q:  Secretary, considering the revelations recently about the new ballistic missile that the Chinese are developing faster than American – the U.S. intelligence thought and the stealth fighter photos which have come out, does this – first of all, does this lend any additional urgency to your visit?  Are you particularly concerned about that?  And secondly, are you doing anything to address the possible – or checking to possible intelligence lapses that allowed them to get further than expected?

           SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I think, first of all, we’ve been watching these developments all along.  I’ve been concerned about the development of the anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job.  I would – we knew they were working on a stealth aircraft.  I think that what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted. 

           The one statement that I would make in terms of – I never said – as somebody quoted me – that their stealth aircraft didn’t matter.  What I said was that in 2020 or 2025 that there would still be a vast disparity in the number of deployed fifth generation aircraft that the United States had compared to anybody else in the world.  And I continue to stand by that statement even with some of the program changes that we’ve made in the Joint Strike Fighter. 

           And so these are matters of concern, and frankly if you go back and look very carefully at that egregiously long statement from last Thursday, you will notice that there – some of these higher priority areas for investment are focused on some of these anti-access programs.

           Q:  Let me just clarify what you said.  You said the intel on the stealth fighter was – that they were (moving ?)ahead of that, faster than you thought?

           SECRETARY GATES:  Somewhat.

           Q:  (Inaudible.)

           SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I’ve heard it.  I’d seen it about the stealth, but not – about the aircraft but not the missiles.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, the last time that you were here, you talked very specifically about transparency with the Chinese.  Is that something that you’ll be pushing again soon?

            SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I think that becomes – my hope would be that that would be part of the strategic dialogue, that as the two countries begin to talk about strategy and policies and so on that intentions will become more transparent.  And I think that would be helpful.

            MR. MORRELL:  I think there is one last – (inaudible) – you were following up on it – (inaudible) – investments – (inaudible) – that you’re following up on?

            Q:  Do you believe that this stealth fighter once and for all.  There’s a lot of talk about whether or not it actually is a stealth – (fighter ?).

            SECRETARY GATES:  I think there is some question about just how stealthy.

           Q:  (Inaudible.)  What are the concerns you have about the development of these capabilities?

           SECRETARY GATES:  They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs.  My hope is that through the strategic dialogue that I’m talking about that maybe the need for some of these capabilities is reduced.

           Q:  (Inaudible) – do you believe the DF-21, the – (inaudible) – anti-ballistic missile, anti-ship ballistic missile already has initial operation capability?  And with regard to that, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report write a concern that U.S. base in East Asia, including – (inaudible) – will be attacked by Chinese ballistic missiles.  Do you share the same concern?

           SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I don’t want to talk about hypothetical military situations.  I would say that – if I understood the first question correctly about whether the anti-ship missiles are operational at this point – is that the question? 

           MR. MORRELL:  Yes.

           SECRETARY GATES:  I think that the development has proceeded fairly – I think they’re fairly far along, but whether it’s actually reached IOC or not, I just don’t know. 

           MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  Thank you, guys.