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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and General Liang from Beijing, China

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chinese Minister for National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie
January 10, 2011

            (Note:  General Liang’s remarks are provided through an interpreter.)

            MODERATOR:  Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.  General Liang and Secretary Gates have just concluded their meeting and now they are joining us to today’s press conference.

            First I would like to give the floor to General Liang.

            GEN. LIANG:  Good morning friends from the press.  At my invitation, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mr. Robert Gates is visiting China from 9-12 of this month.  Just now we had a very extensive and in depth and candid exchange of views in our meeting on China and U.S. state-to-state and military-to-military relations and also other issues of mutual interest.  We reached important consensus in the meeting.  The talks which were held in a friendly atmosphere were positive, constructive and productive. 

            We both affirmed that a healthy and stable China-U.S. military-to-military relationship is an essential part of President Hu Jintao and President Obama’s shared vision for a positive, cooperative and comprehensive bilateral relationship in the 21st century.  Both sides look forward to President Hu Jintao’s upcoming state visit to the United States and agreed that sustained and reliable military to military contacts will help reduce misunderstanding and miscalculation.  Both sides agreed that the Defense Consultative Talks or DCT, Defense Policy Coordination Talks or the DPCT, and discussions under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement [MMCA] will remain important channels of dialogue in the future.

            Both sides concurred that a healthy and stable U.S. military-to-military relationship is in our common interest.  We both recognize enhancing and maintaining dialogue and communication at all levels is of great significance to the development of military to military relations.  That both sides share the responsibility and obligation to take effective measures to respect each other’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity to foster and bolster strategic mutual trust, to consolidate and expand mutual interests and to prevent misunderstanding and miscalculation.

            We both attach importance to the priority areas for military-to-military relations that General Xu Caihou, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and Secretary Robert Gates agreed on during General Xu’s visit to U.S. in October of 2009.  We affirmed that planned exchanges will be conducted in such areas as high level visits, institutionalized exchange programs and military education. 

            At the invitation of Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Chen Bingde, member of the Central Military Commission and Chief of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] General Staff, will visit the United States at an appropriate time in the first half of 2011.  The two militaries will also conduct cooperation in non-traditional security areas including counterterrorism, peacekeeping, counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  The two sides agreed to hold the MMCA working group meeting in the first half of 2011 and the DPCT as early as possible, also in the first half of the year.  We agreed to establish a joint working group which will meet in 2011 to discuss the guiding principles and framework for mil to mil relations and produce mutually agreed documents in due course.

            In the meeting we also had in depth exchanges of ideas on regional security interests of common interest including the situation on the Korean peninsula.

            I’m satisfied with the outcome of the meeting and I stand ready to work together with Secretary Gates by following the principles of mutual respect, mutual trust, reciprocity and mutual benefit to strengthen our dialogues and communication, to promote understanding and trust and expand consensus and exchanges and contacts so as to make sure the mil-to-mil relationships between China and the United States will progress in a sound and steady manner.

            Thank you all. 

            SEC. GATES:  Good afternoon.  It is a pleasure to be back in Beijing.  I’d like to thank the government and people of China for their gracious hospitality, which I’ve greatly enjoyed since my first visit almost 30 years ago.  Much has changed since then.

            I also want to thank General Liang for his hospitality.  He and I had a great deal to discuss in our meetings earlier today.  Both President Obama and President Hu have stressed that building a sustained and reliable relationship between our two militaries is an indispensible part of strengthening our two nations’ broader relationship -- a relationship that consists of deepening economic and cultural ties that touch the lives of virtually all our citizens.

            Among these are:  improving maritime security; addressing the challenges posed by the spread of nuclear-, space-, cyber-, and missile technology; maintaining peace and security on the Korean Peninsula by facilitating engagement between the two Koreas and towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by continuing to work through the dual-track approach; and finally, continuing to cooperate generally to diffuse global conflicts and tensions.

            I’ve stressed several times the importance of maintaining an ongoing military-to-military dialogue between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.  Mechanisms such as the Defense Consultative Talks, the Defense Policy Coordination Talks, and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement can serve as important channels of communication in this regard.

            As General Liang mentioned in his statement, we have agreed to pursue now seven priority areas of cooperation which were agreed to in October 2009.  The general and I have also agreed to establish a working group that will develop a new framework for improving ties between the U.S. and Chinese military establishments.  This group will meet several times during the coming year, and will present the framework during the 2011 Defense Consultative Talks.  We also agreed to hold working group meetings under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement to discuss future operational safety and to build cooperation in the maritime domain.

            As General Liang mentioned in his statement, we agreed to look into a number of joint military activities ranging from maritime search and rescue to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter-piracy, counterterrorism, and more. Not only will joint exercises improve certain key capabilities on both sides they also will lead to safer practices for our sea and air forces, and, over time, cultivate trust and lead to more opportunities for defense cooperation.  We are in strong agreement.  In order to reduce the chances of miscommunication, misunderstanding, or miscalculation, it is important that our military-to-military ties are solid, consistent, and not subject to shifting political winds.

            Finally, I was pleased that General Liang noted and said that the Chinese side would consider and study the beginning of a strategic security dialogue -- as part of a broader Strategic and Economic Dialogue -- that covers nuclear, missile defense, space, and cyber issues. 

            Cultivating personal relationships can be an important part of improving understanding and cooperation.  In that vein, Admiral Mullen and I will be pleased to welcome the Chief of the General Staff of the PLA to visit the United States in the first half of this year.  And, of course, we are very much looking forward to President Hu’s state visit to Washington next week. 

            The next two days will provide further opportunities for dialogue with my Chinese colleagues.  They include:  meetings later today with Vice President Xi, the Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission followed by an official banquet tonight; discussions with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and with President Hu Jintao tomorrow; and on Wednesday, a visit to the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, the latter providing a key opportunity to advance our discussion of nuclear strategy.

            China and the United States are two of the world’s great powers and we both recognize the responsibilities and opportunities that status entails -- including showing the rest of the world the benefits that arise when great nations cooperate on matters of shared interests.  Our two nations now have an extraordinary opportunity to define the relationship not by the obstacles that at times divide us, but by the opportunities that exist to foster greater cooperation and bring us closer together.

            Thank you.

            Q:  Secretary Gates said a moment ago that your military-military relations would no longer be subject to political whims.  Does that mean that you have agreed that future talks will not be called off if for example the U.S. were to make another large arms sale to Taiwan?  And, Secretary Gates, you said in June that you thought the senior Chinese political leadership was more committed to the idea of a stable military-military relationship than the PLA itself was.  Here among the PLA today do you believe that there has been a change of heart?

            GEN. LIANG:  Your question touches upon U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.  On that, China’s position has been clear and consistent -- we are against it.  Because United States arms sales to Taiwan seriously damaged China’s core interests and we do not want to see that happen again, neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship.

            At my invitation, Secretary Gates is visiting China and having a productive meeting with me.  He himself, I think, places great value on the development of military-to-military relations and it is the same case with the Chinese side.  In our meeting we discussed not only the positive elements, the positive product in the development of our military to military relations, we also talked about difficulties and obstacles in the development of our military-to-military relations and the meeting was conducted in a very candid manner.  And I believe this way has helped lay down a very solid foundation for the settlement of our differences and the future progress of our mil-to-mil relations.  I think in the future, as long as we work together in following the shared vision of President Hu and President Obama in building up more positive mil-to-mil relations, while at the same time working together to appropriately handle our differences, I’m sure that the mil-to-mil relations will obtain a more positive development in the future.

            At the same time, what I want to emphasize here is that we also hope the United States will pay sufficient attention to the concerns of the Chinese side and take measures to gradually remove or reduce the obstacles that stand in the way of our mil-to-mil relations.

            SEC. GATES:  I would say that I spent a little over two hours in meetings with General Liang and his colleagues this morning.  I would agree with his characterization of the meeting as positive, constructive and friendly.  It was also candid.  This follows onto a very productive meeting that General Ma had with Under Secretary Flournoy in Washington in December.  I am confident on the basis of the meetings in December and my meetings here today that we are on the road to fulfilling the mandate that our two Presidents have given us: to strengthen the military-to-military relationships that they both consider an underdeveloped part of the overall U.S.-China relationship.  So I come out away from the meeting this morning optimistic and confident that the leadership of the PLA is as committed to fulfilling the mandate of our two presidents as I am.

            Q:  I’m with Xinhua and my question goes to Secretary Gates.  Recently we observed that the U.S. military has been very active in East Asia, including the conducting of combined exercises in the Yellow Sea.  It has also been reported recently that three aircraft carriers are gathering in East Asia.  My question is: what is the United States’ strategic intention in this region and whether you have had good communications or cooperation with China in this aspect.

            SEC. GATES:  As I told General Liang this morning, our exercises have not been directed in any way at China.  Rather they have been the result of our growing concern over the provocative behavior of North Korea. Our efforts have been directed at deterring further provocations on the part of North Korea.  Because of the danger of creating instability and escalating military activity in the region, this is an area where I believe the U.S. and China actually have worked cooperatively and we acknowledge and appreciate China’s constructive actions late last fall in terms of trying to tamp down tensions on the Peninsula.  But that is a major concern of ours and clearly a major topic of discussion on my visit here to Beijing.

            Q:  Question for Defense Minister Liang.  It is generally recognized that a country of China’s stature should obviously have a powerful military.  That said, China is in the process of developing some weapon systems that have caused concern in the United States.  I am speaking specifically about the anti-ship ballistic missiles also about anti-satellite capabilities and also about your stealth fighter.  The question I have is:  is China while it is trying to improve relations with the U.S. military also engaged in a nascent arms buildup to counter American influence in Asia?

            Secretary Gates, my question is: yesterday you said that the U.S. is responding to China’s buildup of these weapon systems by also increasing its anti-access capabilities.  For example, the deep strike bomber.  Also, increased satellite capabilities and radar enhancements.  Is the United States responding to China’s perhaps beefing up and in itself also engaging in a weapons race with China?

            GEN. LIANG:  Indeed, in recent years the development of China’s military force has been a very popular topic in the international press.  Actually with the growth of economic power and the comprehensive national power of China, the military development has made some progress in recent years.  This is for the protection of the security interests of China.  In doing so, we have developed indigenously some weapon systems.  In the parade that we staged in commemoration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China two years ago, we have demonstrated those newly developed weapons systems to the outside world.  However, at the same time, I also firmly believe that in terms of the level of modernization of the PLA, we can by no means call ourselves an advanced military force.  The gap between us and that of advanced countries is at least two to three decades.  And the efforts that we have put into research and development of our weapons systems are for the fulfilment of our mission to protect the sovereignty, security, and interests of national development of the country.  After all, we shall never underestimate the complexity of the security situation that China as a country is faced with. 

            That said, I also want to emphasize that the efforts that we placed in research and development of our weapons systems is by no means targeted at any third country and it will by no means threaten any other country in the world.  I do not agree, or rather I oppose, that there are some people always in the world that always want to label China’s military development as a so-called military threat to the world.  I hope that friends from other countries would make, and come up with, a more precise assessment and more reasonable conclusion when we look at the development of China’s military.  Thank you.

            SEC. GATES:  I think that your question again goes to the importance of the proposal that I have made for an in-depth strategic dialogue between the United States and China, between our two militaries.  The mechanisms that we have already agreed to continue with, and the new framework that General Liang and I have talked about that will be developed and implemented this year, I think are an important step forward in terms of a greater understanding of each other’s intentions, each other’s policies, each other’s strategy.  I think that kind of a dialogue, really focused on the areas that I have talked about -- nuclear, missile defense, space, and cyber -- all create an environment in which the chances of a miscalculation or a misunderstanding are significantly reduced.  In the meantime, I think that greater openness and transparency between us through this enhanced dialogue -- both the existing mechanisms that we have and the ones that we are talking about developing -- are all important to ensure that we have a clear understanding of each other’s intentions as well as our strategy.

            MODERATOR:  Now the last question.

            GEN. LIANG:  Let me make some additional comments on the issue raised by Secretary Gates on the Strategic Security Dialogue.  There exists quite a number of forms of dialogue between China and the United States.  For example, in the economic field, we have had a well-established mechanism and identified a leadership to lead and co-chair the economic dialogues between the two countries.  As for the dialogues between the two militaries, every year the two militaries will hold the annual Defense Consultative Talks and I believe this is one form of the dialogues at the strategic level between the two sides.  The Chinese side noticed the proposal of Secretary Gates on the conducting of the Strategic Security Dialogue and we are studying that.

            MODERATOR:  Now the last question.

            Q:  From China Radio International.  My question goes to Secretary Gates.  It has been reported that Pentagon has decided to sell 226 Army tactical missiles to Taiwan.  Can you confirm that report and also how does the U.S. side perceive, or look at, the impact of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan on the development of China-U.S. mil-to-mil relations?

            SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, clearly it goes without saying the sales have created difficulties between us in the past.  If I am correct, the sale that you refer to was actually made under my previous boss, President Bush, in 2008 and announced at that time and the missiles being referred to are air defense missiles, so strictly on the defensive side.  They are not tactical surface-to-surface missiles.

            MODERATOR:  That concludes today’s press conference.  Thank you, Secretary.  Thank you, Minister.

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