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China Important to Pacific Peace, Panetta Tells Students

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2013 – The United States seeks to establish a strategic dialogue with China as well as a common approach to challenges, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told a Georgetown University audience here today.

Following a speech on leadership and government this morning, the secretary took audience questions. One international student from Japan asked the secretary to comment on “the islands dispute between China and Japan.”

Panetta noted in his response that he had visited both Japanese and Chinese leaders in recent months and had discussed the issue with both sides. Each country claims rights to a group of islands east of China and south of Japan.

The secretary said repeatedly throughout his September, 2012, trip, touching down in both nations, that the United States does not take sides in territorial disputes, but urges peaceful resolution of any such issues.

The danger in territorial clashes between nations, Panetta explained today at Georgetown, is that an unmeasured act could create an even greater crisis.

“Part of our reason to rebalance to the Pacific is because we think that in many ways … our future economic security, our trade relationships, our security relationships are going to be critical in that part of the world,” he said.

Panetta said maintaining and improving those relationships, both with allies like Japan and South Korea and with “rising powers” such as China, is central to U.S. strategy.

“We've got a set of common challenges here,” the secretary told his audience. “One is our ability to respond to disasters in that part of the world.”

Another challenge is the threat of missile proliferation, particularly in North Korea, he added.

Panetta’s message to Chinese leaders during his visit, he noted, was, "It is in your interest to work with other countries to resolve these issues. Because if your interest is in a Pacific region that can be peaceful and that can prosper in the future, you have to be part of that." 

Pacific stability requires that China not threaten other countries, the secretary said.

“It cannot be a China that threatens … to go after their territories and create territorial disputes,” he said. “They have to be part of a family of nations in that region, working together in order to ensure peace and prosperity.”

The secretary said recently appointed Chinese leaders he met on his trip “recognize the importance of trying to develop that kind of communication.”

Panetta said he urged Chinese leaders to discuss cyber and missile defense issues with their U.S. counterparts.

“And they indicated that they were willing to engage in those kinds of strategic talks,” the secretary said.

Panetta said it’s important that China recognizes “that the United States, Japan, Korea and other countries in that part of the world are going to do everything we have to do to promote security and prosperity, and that they should be a part of that, not against it.”

 

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