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Background Briefing on Secretary of Defense Hagel's Upcoming Trip to Shangri-La Dialogue from the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Senior Defense Department Officials
May 28, 2013

            MODERATOR:  Okay.  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for -- for coming.  This is a background briefing on Secretary Hagel's upcoming trip to Hawaii and then, of course, to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue.  

            In a minute, I'm going to turn it over to your background, your key background briefer for today -- his name won't be included in your reporting, of course, but I think maybe everyone knows my colleague to my left of me is -- (inaudible) -- who's our -- (inaudible) -- again, we ask you not to include that in your reporting, but for you all to know who he is.  He'll be briefing you later today. 

            And, again, I want to just say that the goal of this briefing is to kind of give you a perspective of why Secretary Hagel is going to Singapore, what he hopes to get out of the visit, and talk broadly about what our objectives are in Asia. 

            Let me just say a couple -- a couple few points about Secretary Hagel's personal commitment to Shangri-La before tossing it over to -- (inaudible) -- one is, one point to make clear is that Secretary Hagel actually helped found the Shangri-La Dialogues over 10 years ago when the IISS [International Institute for Strategic Studies]putthis together.  They reached out to then-Senator Hagel, and he was one of their first speakers in 2002.  So he's very much familiar with this forum.  He's spoken there a number of times in the past, and he's really looking forward to going back again now as secretary of defense. 

            The other thing to mention on his first trip to Asia, which I think is interesting, is that his father served in -- in Asia during World War II.  Obviously, Secretary Hagel served in Vietnam as a young sergeant alongside his brother, so he has a personal commitment to the security of Asia that he's demonstrated during that time and since as a senator and now as a secretary.  So for all those reasons, he's personally committed to the security in the region, and I think he looks forward to going there and being part of this Shangri-La Dialogue. 

            So with that -- (inaudible) -- over to you, and we'll proceed. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thanks -- thanks -- (inaudible) -- hi, everybody.  I'll try not to talk too long.  We don't have a ton of time, but the, you know, bottom line is, it's going to be the secretary's first trip to Asia as secretary in this position.  I think as you all know, he's very familiar with the Asia Pacific region.  He's spent a lot of time in Asia, not only as a young man, but throughout his -- throughout his career, and so he's seeing a lot of -- he'll be seeing a lot of old friends and familiar faces. 

            You know, the -- he's also watched this dialogue, you know, become, you know, really a fundamental piece of the security architecture in Asia.  He's watched it really grow in its prominence and significance.  And I think as you all know, it basically attracts government and nongovernmental senior leaders from across the region and the world.  And so it's been part of our overall focus on the Pacific in the administration has been to consistently be at these.  And as you know, Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, now Secretary Hagel have all attended the Shangri-La Dialogue and used it to really good effect. 

            A lot of what we'll be able to do on this trip, in addition to engaging with all of our partners, because we couldn't get all your counterparts in a good way in this -- in this -- in the few days out there, but what we'll be doing is looking at the follow-through.  Last year, as you know, Secretary Panetta laid out sort of the strategic guidance and how it focused on the Pacific and, you know, what we -- what came to be called the rebalance and how that was going.  And there were a lot of things we talked about, like the beginning of rotational deployments of Littoral Combat Ships [LCS] to Singapore.  You know, that's now happened, with the first arriving earlier this month, with the beginnings of the rotations of Marines through Darwin.  That's now underway, with the second rotation happening, so it will be a lot of focus on follow-through. 

            We'll -- you know, we'll depart tomorrow.  We'll stop in Hawaii, have meetings with Admiral Locklear.  He'll talk to troops out in Hawaii.  We'll fly on to Singapore.  Admiral Locklear will be joining us for the dialogue, so we'll be in Singapore Friday.  And actually, we're there Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.  So we actually have three nights in Singapore.  That's going to give us the ability to have a really full slate of meetings, not only bilateral meetings with counterparts from all over the region, but also two important trilateral meetings, one with the Republic of Korea and Japan and one trilateral meeting with the Australians and the Japanese.           

            So he's going to -- he's going to have a significant amount of time with -- with all his counterparts while out there.  You know, he's about three months in the job, and we basically have gotten to -- you know, and through this, we will have gotten to virtually all of his counterparts in the Asia Pacific.  We think it's a really, you know -- it's really giving us a great foundation. 

            While he's out there, he'll also -- he'll have a chance to tour the LCS that's out there.  It's the USS Freedom.  It's only been in port a few weeks, so that'll be -- that'll be good.  And then he'll be off to -- off to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], Brussels for the ministerial.  So lots of multilateral excitement for everybody in the next -- in the next few weeks. 

            So, you know, with that, I think I'd just open it up to questions people might have.  Just by way of preview, I'm going to focus today on the trip and Singapore and why he's going to Singapore.  I think, you know -- (inaudible) -- and company are happy to tackle other questions if we want to get into current ops and current developments and things like that, but I really would like to focus on the substance of this particular -- this particular trip. 

            So over to you guys. 

            Q:  (off mic) you mentioned U.S., Japan and South Korea going to hold their first trilateral meeting in three years in Singapore to talk about North Korea, as well as East China Sea territorial dispute.  Why not inviting China to join this discussion? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So it's not the first trilateral in three years.  Actually, Secretary Panetta did a trilateral with his -- with his Japanese and Korean counterparts last year.  Is that right?  Yeah.  So this'll be the fourth of these. 

            Really, you know, if you -- this is -- this is our -- this is -- a major part of our, you know, cornerstone alliance architecture in the region has been doing these trilateral -- these trilateral discussions, so it's really actually about us and our two primarily allies in the region getting together to talk not just regional security issues, but also just alliance -- overall alliance management issues. 

            Q:  (off mic) Chinese (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  The Chinese are sending a delegation.  We do not believe they're sending their minister of defense.  I expect we'll have some engagements with the Chinese delegation at various levels.  I'm sure we will -- I'm sure we'll have chances to talk on the margins of various events, but we don't -- I do not believe there will be a defense minister level representative from China. 

            Q:  (off mic) 

            Q:  Another question on this trilateral with ROK and Japan.  There's been frequent tensions between Japan and Korea of the past few weeks.  Is there a message that the secretary wants to convey to both countries to try to -- as it tries to build up trilateral -- I mean, an alliance with both countries? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, I mean, I think, first, I would just say that the -- you know, our bilateral alliances with both countries are the cornerstones of our relationship.  And the three of us working together on issues of common concern is something that's been consistently important. 

            Obviously, everyone is aware that there have, you know, been bilateral issues between the two.  This is a great opportunity to engage on, you know, a whole range of issues.  And it gives -- gives the three an opportunity to come together and talk about easy and hard issues.  We don't really -- we don't shy away from tough issues in talking to our allies -- (inaudible) -- I don't know if you have anything to add that. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  (off mic) microphone (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  You know, as -- (inaudible) -- said, these are two of our key allies.  We have a lot to talk about in terms of shared security interests, especially given some recent provocations, provocative rhetoric from North Korea.  So we maintain close and continuous kind of communication with both of our allies, and very frequently we come together to talk about security cooperation in a trilateral format.           

            So this is bumping it up to the defense minister level.  As -- (inaudible) -- said, it's the fourth time we've done this at Shangri-La.  It will be the fourth time in a row.  So we are certainly looking to build security cooperation based on our shared values and our shared common security interests in the region.  And we try to insulate our security cooperation as much as possible from the other kind of, you know, historical tensions or other kinds of political issues that arise. 

            Q:  And last year, Panetta had a number of sort of deliverables when he was there, sort of announcing a couple of new efforts with the Japanese, et cetera.  Do you expect deliverables this year with Hagel's discussions with some of those nations?  Or -- because you sort of alluded to kind of a building block on (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  The focus is really follow-through for us this year.  I mean, if you think about it, last year, we were -- we were sharing with the region the new strategic guidance that had just come out a couple of months previously. 

            And so the question was, what is this new defense strategic guidance that came out in January of 2012?  What does it mean for the region?  And so Secretary Panetta’s -- you know, appearance at Shangri-La was an opportunity to, you know, sort of put meat on the bones for our allies and partners throughout the region and say, "Here's what this new strategic guidance means.  This is what we're going to do."  We laid out a lot of things, so it got -- you know, that was -- that was definitely focused on. 

            You know, this year is really about showing that that strategic guidance, the rebalance is underway and we can demonstrate how things we talked about a year ago are moving forward.  We can talk frankly about where there might be challenges.  I think the question of sequester and things like that will obviously come up and how we're managing that, but we're very confident that we are managing to maintain the focus of the shift to Asia, the rebalance to Asia, to deliver on what we need to do, and that we'll be able to do that no matter what the buffeting of politics and -- and sort of, you know, one-off budget issues is, as we -- as we go into the next few years.  So it's very much a focus on follow-through. 

            Q:  No new deployments to be announced?  No new -- 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, as you can imagine, I'm not going to preview what the secretary or might not say when he's out there with specifics.  I wouldn't want to steal my boss's thunder.  So, you know -- but I'll leave you -- I'll leave everyone to hear what he has to say when he's out there.  But the focus really is on follow-through, so I don't want to tee up any -- any big expectations there. 

            Thom? 

            Q:  Since you raised the issue yourself, please help us understand, does sequestration limit your ability to carry out the rebalance?  Is it an issue that you think the allies are concerned about?  And what will you tell them on that topic?           

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I mean, I think everyone is curious about how we as a department and we as a government are going to deal with the impacts of -- of sequester.  As you know, Secretary Hagel has instituted a big review process and that's -- that's looking at how we're going to make hard choices.  

            The sequester has negative impacts across DOD and across the government.  It certainly makes things harder.  The fact is, we will still have very significant defense resources for this.  And we will be able to resource our priorities across the Asia Pacific.  That we're very confident of. 

            In the back? 

            Q:  Yeah in the past when the SECDEF's Chinese counterpart was -- (inaudible) -- SECDEF also met with a high general, like General -- (inaudible) -- so I wonder whether you have tried any bilateral, any meetings this time?  And also, how is he going to address the Chinese hacking problem? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So the -- I think the same answer I had before.  There's not going to be sort of a formal bilateral.  There's no formal counterpart.  As always, we manage to engage with the delegations from various countries, and, you know, I imagine that will be able to happen.  But it will be -- you know, it will be an informal engagement, if it does happen. 

            On the -- on the broader cyber issues, I think I'll refer you to -- I imagine there will be lots of activity on that front in the coming days, and there's lots developing on -- on challenges in cybersecurity writ large, so I won't speak to that today. 

            Q:  What's your bilat schedule like? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Okay, I don't know if I have an exhaustive list.  And as you can imagine, Shangri-La is a very dynamic and fluid environment, so most of the time we end up with things happening that we didn't quite plan and things -- you know, things moving.  Sometimes people you thought were coming don't show up. 

            But certainly, you know, I think we're going to have, you know, the Philippines.  We're going to have the Indonesians.  We're going to have -- so I'm not going to -- why don't I not list them all, because I'm doing it off the top of my head, and I'll get it wrong, so we're going to have the vast majority of his counterparts -- counterparts who are there, the majority of whom will be seeing him.  And on the plane, I can give people more detail on that. 

            Q:  Can you elaborate a little bit on -- when you say you imagine there will be lots of development on the China hacking front, I mean, what do you mean by that?  Do you mean that you think that there will be meetings (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  No, I mean, I read -- I mean -- I meant today, for you guys here in Washington, I read the news this morning, so I imagine that you're going to be talking about this a lot when you have a press briefing today. 

            Q:  (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  No.  I'm not going to talk about it now. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We'll be happy to respond to questions on that issue following the background. 

            Q:  We have a briefing today?  Is there (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Today, tomorrow, whenever. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I don't think there's a briefing today, but we're happy to answer any questions on that. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  So, essentially, I'm not the guy to talk cyber to you guys, so don't -- you know, don't -- don't go, senior defense official said there'll be lots of developments in cyber.  I read the news this morning, and I went, wow, there's going to be lots of questions about this.  And so the -- and you guys will -- you guys will certainly be asking them, but hopefully you'll be asking them of the right people and not of -- not of the regional guy up here right now. 

            Q:  Following up on Thom's question, will the strategic management review process that's going on now be far enough along that he'll be able to talk about that with his counterparts (off mic). 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I -- I don't know where it will be.  Obviously, it is a big behemoth of a process, so I don't know where it will be.  I am sure the secretary will be able to give his counterpart sort of his thoughts on where things are headed, but I can't -- I couldn't speak to where it'll actually be and, you know, whether it would be like, hey, I've got something -- here are all my conclusions.  I can't say -- I can't speak to that. 

            Q:  (off mic) let me go to the question about trilateral meetings between -- among we, South Korea, and Japan.  You said that there were talk about a range of issues.  Would you please be more -- a little bit more specific when it comes to agenda items?  Of course, that will include North Korea and (off mic). 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I think -- you know, and -- (inaudible) -- can correct me here, but I think North Korea and the provocative behavior that we've seen out of North Korea and the -- the decisions that's made all of us make and the tensions we see from that and the uncertainty that that causes, that is by far the dominant agenda item.  So I really would say North Korea.  And then I think everything else, you know, we -- as -- as allies with a lot happening in the region, I think regional issues and developments will all come up, so there will be a broad range of issues, but I would almost -- I would almost say the heart is going to be North Korea. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, we always talk about regional security situation, and obviously, North Korea is always a centerpiece of that with those two allies, but we also talk about a range of areas where we work together on practical security cooperation, trilateral exercises, HADR [Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief], counter-proliferation, counter-piracy, all of those kind of topics, as well, we -- we touch upon. 

            Q:  (off mic) aside from the trilateral U.S.-South Korea-Japan dialogue, will there be separate bilats between the U.S. and Japan and the U.S. and South Korea? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  There -- I think there will be -- there will be lots of opportunities for him to see everybody.  I think he will definitely have a separate meeting with his Korean counterpart.  I think he will have a separate meeting or be at lunch next to his Japanese counterpart.  There's various -- these things happen in various different ways, but, yeah, he will have -- if the question is, will he have sort of one-on-one time with his Japanese and Korean counterparts, the answer is yes. 

            Good? 

            Q:  (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Sure. 

            Q:  (off mic) Japan and South Korea? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I think if you -- if you -- if you think about this, three nights on the ground in Singapore with all of your counterparts present including your Japanese and Korean counterparts actually just made more -- this trip, it just made the most sense to get that -- do the trilateral and have a much more significant chunk of time where you're all in one place.  So this was -- you know, this doesn't -- no sort of -- nothing to be read into whether we stopped or didn't stop somewhere.  Really, it was about the perfect opportunity for those engagements was actually going to be in Singapore this time. 

            Okay? 

            Q:  (off mic) 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Sure. 

            Q:  (off mic) to what extent will missile defense be discussed, especially trilateral cooperation between U.S., Japan and South Korea, and then with Australia, also? 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I think with all the countries of the region, our recent decisions with regards to deploying additional missile defense assets, given North Korea's provocations and demonstrations, will be -- it'll be an issue discussed I think, really, across the board, probably most intensely with the Japanese and the Koreans, but as you can imagine, Southeast Asian nations also are -- are nervous about what's happening out of Pyongyang.  And so everybody's curious about what we're doing on the missile defense front, so it will certainly come up. 

            MODERATOR:  Just one more thing on schedule, just to be clear about what we have lined up so far on who -- on who will be -- in terms of meetings, of course, he'll meet with the Koreans, the Japanese, and also our allies in the Philippines.  He'll also meet with several other Southeast Asia leaders, and we'll make those meetings known as -- as we lock them in.  So that's what I wanted to -- to add. 

            Also, if the -- are there any other questions at this point?  As we often do I’ll have to ask the travelers to stay behind to -- (inaudible) -- logistics information about how to get to Andrews and how we get off on our trip.  With that, thank you very much for your time.  Thanks for coming. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thanks, guys. 

            MODERATOR:  And we appreciate it.

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