SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: Okay, thank you very much. Let me introduce on my left U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN David Carden, and on my right the ambassador – U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Scot Marciel. Let me begin by saying a few words about the visit here and the meeting that I had with the defense minister, and then we’ll throw it open to your questions.
But first of all let me say it’s a pleasure for me to be able to be here in Indonesia on my first trip to this region as United States Secretary of Defense. Earlier today I had the opportunity to meet with Minister Purnomo, and tomorrow I’ll meet with the president of Indonesia. We had – the minister and I had a very good discussion on how to further deepen the very close security partnership between the United States and Indonesia.
Let me say for all of you the principal message that I bring to Indonesia and to this part of the world, and that is that the United States as a Pacific nation, and I as secretary of defense coming from the Pacific coast of the United States, as someone who was born and raised in California and who appreciates the Pacific and the importance of that region to our country, made very clear to those that I’ve spoken to, and I will continue to make very clear that the United States remains a Pacific power, that we will continue to strengthen our presence in this part of the world, and that we will remain a force for peace and prosperity in this region.
We continue to push for free and open commerce and continue to push for open access to the sea and to the air, and we’ll continue to seek the just international order.
I expressed our deep admiration for Indonesia’s strong leadership in regional and global issues. They have really, I think, exerted a strong leadership role in this region and we deeply appreciate that. As two diverse and dynamic societies, the bonds between the United States and Indonesia draw strength from our shared values: a belief in tolerance, a belief in pluralism and a belief in religious freedom. This bilateral relationship, I believe, holds great promise for ensuring our shared security and our shared prosperity in the 21st century.
Our conversations focused on a broad range of issues, reflecting Indonesia’s growing importance as a global leader and the long-term commitment of the United States to the security and prosperity of this region. Our defense relationship continues to develop in the context of the comprehensive partnership that we’ve established. This year alone the United States is conducting more than 150 activities, exchanges and visits with the Indonesian military. It shows you the continually cooperative bond between the United States and Indonesia and we will continue to do that.
We discussed how to further cooperation between our militaries in three key areas. One is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. I mentioned our concern about obviously what’s happening in Thailand, what’s happening now in parts of Cambodia, and obviously the disasters that have impacted on this region, and so we are trying to do what we can to make sure that we provide relief, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in those situations.
In addition to that we are looking at maritime security and the effort to ensure free access to the sea to protect our navigational rights to free passage and the rights of free passage to all of the ASEAN nations.
And lastly, we stressed peacekeeping capabilities to ensure that we preserve peace in this region. The United States is also firmly committed to helping Indonesia in its efforts to reform military institutions and increase the professionalization of the TNI. We’ve made tremendous gains in this area. I am pleased by those gains but there continue to be areas that they can continue to improve, and so we stress that that continue to happen.
We also affirmed our shared belief that greater multilateral cooperation and strong regional institutions are absolutely essential, given the complexity of the Asia-Pacific security environment. I was extremely pleased to receive Indonesia’s invitation to meet with my ASEAN counterparts, and I will be doing that later today and I look forward to the opportunity to express to them many of the issues and concerns that I just discussed with you.
We strongly support the continuing development of the ASEAN security community. It’s a bottom line, and I am here to again affirm our continuing support to that important regional organization.
Before I open it up to questions let me also, if I may, express my personal condolences to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and to the people of Saudi Arabia on the death of Crown Prince Sultan. He was someone who was a leader as defense minister for Saudi Arabia and we had a very strong and continuing relationship with him and Saudi Arabia and he will be deeply missed and we want to express our deepest condolences to not only the king but to the people of Saudi Arabia as well.
So with that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, -- Bob Burns with the AP. In your meetings today and your meetings later in the week in Japan and Korea, how best can you deal with the nervousness many of the Koreans feel about China’s military build-up? And then how high a policy priority do you put on countering this China threat?
SECRETARY PANETTA: What I’ve expressed to the defense minister and I’ll express to the members of the ASEAN community is that with regards to China, what we seek is a cooperative and comprehensive relationship with China. It is important that we develop strong mil-to-mil relations. It is important that we maintain open communications between our two countries.
At the same time, it’s very important for China to be transparent in that kind of relationship and to really join in a process of full cooperation and communication so that both the United States and China can represent a positive force in the Pacific region. There’s no question for there are concerns, but the best place to be able to express those concerns is to be able to do that in open and free discussions with the Chinese. And our hope is that the ASEAN community can assist us in that effort to improve relations with China and with others in the Pacific region.
Q: (Inaudible.) How do you see – (inaudible) – outcome and will you raise the issue – (inaudible) – ?
SECRETARY PANETTA: I’m going to have the ambassador also speak to this issue. We did discuss this with the defense minister and we expressed concerns about the events that occurred there, and the defense minister made clear that the matter is under investigation and that he continues to make sure that steps are taken to ensure that justice is served here and that if these individuals were involved – first and foremost I should say that we support Indonesia’s effort against separatism in that area.
But when it comes to any human rights abuses, and pursuant to the agreement that was worked out with my predecessor, Secretary Gates, we want to ensure that discipline is taken in this area against anyone who violates human rights.
AMBASSADOR CARDEN: I would just add that in terms of the events of this past week in – (inaudible) – as the secretary said, our position in terms of – (inaudible) – have been clear and consistent for a long time. I think that the question is the number of reports about possible excessive use of force by the security forces against the assembly, and we have made it clear that – (inaudible) – for the Indonesian government to investigate transparently, find out exactly what happened.
MR. SECRETARY: Your time.
Q: (Inaudible.) Going back to your comment about China, to what extent are the countries in the region worried that because of our budget cuts, defense budget cuts and our economy that we’re going to pull back in Asia, and can you assure everyone here in the region that there will be no force reductions in the region, and that’s the question.
SECRETARY PANETTA: Yes. You know, there’s no question that those concerns have been expressed, and the purpose of my visit is to make very clear to this region and to our allies in the Pacific that we – and when I say we, the president of the United States and the Department of Defense – made very clear that the Pacific will remain a key priority for the United States, that we will maintain our force projection in this area, that we will maintain a presence in this area, that we will remain a Pacific power, and that we will do whatever we can to try to work with the nations of this area to develop a strong security and cooperative relationship.
I’ve made clear that even with the budget constraints that we are facing in the United States, as we have developed a strategy to deal with that and try to develop a future strategy for what our defense will look like in the future, that there is no question in discussions within the Pentagon and discussions with the White House that the Pacific will be a priority for the United States of America.
Q: (Inaudible.) Tomorrow you are going to be leaving for Japan. My question is, what is your position on the Futenma base issue, and what do you expect the Japanese government to do about that?
SECRETARY PANETTA: I will be flying to Japan tomorrow for meetings there with my counterparts, the prime minister. And I will make clear to them that we continue to support our commitment with Japan with regards to Futenma and with regards to Okinawa.
And my goal will be to ensure that steps are being taken to try to fulfill that commitment. That’s important for both the United States and Japan to move forward and ensure that that agreement; the elements of that agreement are met. And so that will be the purpose of my discussions, but I can assure you that we will remain committed to the agreement between the United States and Japan on this issue.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I – (inaudible). I would like to ask you and to – (inaudible) – former Secretary Robert Gates and – (inaudible) – progress must be shown. Can you tell me what – (inaudible) –this means for a secretary?
SECECRETARY PANETTA: Potential progress with regards to human rights? Is that what you’re – (inaudible)?
Q: Yes – (inaudible).
SECECRETARY PANETTA: Oh, I’m sorry. With regards to Futenma issues? I think it’s very important that Japan proceed with obviously moving forward with Futenma, getting the appropriate permits that are required in order for them to develop that extension for the airbase – for that development for the airbase to take place. And it’s been going on a long period of time. It’s important now to move forward and get the appropriate permits and begin the appropriate work in order to complete that – that airstrip.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Larry Shaughnessy from CNN. You mentioned China must be transparent. In your time in your previous job and in your current position, have you seen examples that China is becoming more transparent or less transparent? And if you could share those examples with us.
SECRETARY PANETTA: You know, in my previous capacity as director of the CIA, we actually maintained a very good relationship on the intelligence side with the Chinese. And I was actually very impressed with the close working relationship that we had developed in a number of areas and that continued to work on despite the ups and downs of the relationship over the last few years.
In this capacity, I haven’t had the opportunity to engage directly with the Chinese, but my hope is based on the work that Secretary Gates did, to try to improve our mil-to-mil relationship with the Chinese, to try to see what areas for cooperation we can develop. Obviously, there are some concerns about some of the things they’re doing about modernization. There are concerns about some of the things they’re doing on some of the most sophisticated weapons that they’re developing.
And so, again, as long as they’re transparent and as long as we can discuss these issues on a frank and direct basis, then I think we can develop a strong working relationship. I mean, they are a major power. The United States is a major power. To the extent that we can discuss what we’re doing and what we’re developing and how we can work more closely together, I think it will be in the interest of not only both nations, but in the interest of the security in the world.
Q: (Inaudible) – in the U.S. government will increase – (inaudible) – especially related to – (inaudible).
SECECRETARY PANETTA: I’m sorry. Mil-to-mil relations with?
SECRETARY PANETTA: Indonesia. We talked about a number of areas where we have really developed very good regional cooperation with Indonesia. Obviously, as part of ASEAN Plus we are working very closely with the ASEAN ministers and we’ll be meeting in 2013 in Brunei and our hope is that we can develop more regular meetings of that group in the future.
We talked about maritime security. And we are developing there a Southeast Asia maritime partnership in which we’re going to try to align our security assistance with some of the regional priorities that Indonesia has in this area.
We’re also developing with them a maritime surveillance system that – we just instituted a new radar system and we’re working with them to try to expand surveillance so that they can develop a better security with regards to maritime activities.
We also discussed with regards to the South China Sea efforts to include the code of conduct that Indonesia is working on with China. And we hope that that can be a basis for better relationships when it comes to the South China Sea.
On defense reform and professionalization, obviously we talked about defense planning assistance, which we are generally providing to Indonesia. And that – we’re going to begin that in December, and that’s a pretty significant step. It’s not something we do with many other nations, but we are going to do it with Indonesia. And we did talk about, obviously, trying to provide updated weapons for them. They’re concerned about, obviously, the F-16s and we’re going to do everything we can to try to develop a realistic timeline for delivering these F-16s to Indonesia.
So we discussed a number of areas and that’s just a small reflection of the areas where we have a close working relationship with them.
Q: Thank you. Can I ask – getting back to China for a second. After the sale of – or after the decision to sell an arms package to Taiwan recently, the Chinese said relations would deteriorate. And a lot of your comments in the last couple of days – (inaudible) – issue. Have the Chinese told you of activities that they’re going to curtail with the United States as a result of that arms sale? And do you – I know when you -- (inaudible) -- Seoul, your visit actually may overlap with one by the Chinese vice premier, who may become the next premier. Do you have any intention to meet with him while you’re there?
SECRETARY PANETTA: With regards to the first point, no. I’ve heard nothing that indicates that they’re taking any steps in reaction to that. As a matter of fact, I guess I would commend them for the way that they’ve handled the news of that sale to Taiwan. I think, you know, compared to the past, I think it was something that the United States announced, but I think we had given the Chinese a heads-up as to what was going to take place. And I think in the end I think they handled it in a professional and diplomatic way and we appreciate that.
With regards to meeting with the – maybe meet the new head of China, obviously I’m going to look forward to opportunities to be able to get to China as soon as I can to be able to sit down with them and begin to delve around the efforts that Bob Gates had begun with regards to better mil-to-mil relationships. I feel pretty confident that we can develop the kind of relationship that can only improve the communication between the defense department and their defense officials but it can help improve the security of both countries.
MR. SECRETARY: (Inaudible) – questions.
Q: My name is – (inaudible) – does the government decide – (inaudible) – the process of – (inaudible) – and what do you think is good enough to – (inaudible).
SECRETARY PANETTA: My understanding is that they’re making every effort to be able to achieve that by the end of the year. And, obviously, I think the United States would encourage Japan to really try to move forward with the environmental requirements there. And obviously Okinawa has to also concur in what they’re doing there as well.
So one of the things I hope to discuss with the Japanese is what progress do they believe they can achieve by the end of the year because that would be very important to determining the steps to be taken to move forward with the commitment between the United States and Japan on this issue.
SECRETARY PANETTA: Nice to meet you.
Q: (Inaudible.) – how do you see in your opinion – (inaudible).
SECRETARY PANETTA: I think that one of the important things that I see the ASEAN organization doing is trying to develop a peaceful approach to solving issues in the South China Sea, and I commend them for that. I think the effort to develop a code of conduct is very important so that the ASEAN nations and China can develop a basis of some standards that they will both comply with in terms of open navigation. I think that’s an important step.
I think the steps that other countries are taking – and I know that Vietnam has been in discussions and obviously worked out an agreement with China and the Philippines to try to do the same thing.
So I really do commend not only the ASEAN organization, but the nations of the ASEAN community for the work they’re doing to try to develop a peaceful resolution to what’s happening in the South China Sea.
Thank you everyone.
SECRETARY PANETTA: Okay.