Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
PLA National Defense University
U.S.-China Engagement: The Role of Military-to-Military Contacts
May 14, 1997
Good Morning. Thank you, General Xing, for your kind
introduction. I am delighted to be in China and honored to be
here at your National Defense University.
Being here this morning brings to mind my visit to China ten
years ago in the company of the then-Army Chief of Staff, General
John Wickham, Jr. We were very impressed then, but I must tell
you that the effects of your rapid economic growth and the
massive amounts of construction in China are breathtaking. But
these changes are not quite as breathtaking as the change in our
It has been twenty-five years now since President Nixon
journeyed to China, where he and Premier Zhou Enlai approved the
Shanghai Communiqu, breaking a quarter century of hostility and
misunderstanding, and laying the foundation for a more fruitful
bilateral relationship. Later on, both of our countries came to
owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Deng Xiaoping, whose
pragmatism and vision provided the foundation for the rapid
economic development of China, as well as the rapid expansion of
cooperation between our two countries.
Today, one statistic speaks volumes about the level of our
interaction: there are more than 40,000 Chinese students in
American universities and schools. Who would have imagined that
25 years ago?
But now, following diplomatic gains, student exchanges, and
our many business ventures, our two nations are pursuing military-
to-military ties to improve communications, reduce potential
misunderstandings, and carry out mutually beneficial activities.
Some of these military to military contacts will be symbolically
important, even if relatively simple affairs, like the visit of
two Chinese destroyers and an oiler to Pearl Harbor and to San
Diego, California in March of this year.
By the way, I am happy to report that, while the U.S. won in
basketball, we played soccer to a hard-fought tie. But I have to
tell you, our naval commanders were worried that they might have
to face a Chinese team in gymnastics or ping-pong!
But at the same time, there are aspects of our military-to-
military ties that are more substantive. As you know, then-
Defense Secretary William Perry visited China in 1994 and General
Chi visited the United States last December and spoke at our
National Defense University. While he was there, General Chi
neatly summarized why he came to America, and indeed, why I am
General Chi said: so long as we make concerted efforts in
the spirit of equality and consultation, our military-to-military
ties will continue to move forward and give positive impetus to
the improvement and the growth of relations between [our] two
So, with improving our military to military contacts in
mind, I would like to discuss with you the United States National
Security policy, how our Armed Forces are organized to protect
our interests, and the importance of the Asia-Pacific region,
where, as General Chi noted, both the United States and China are
To begin, the U.S. National Security Strategy, the strategy
that guides our diplomatic, economic, and defense policy has
changed considerably since 1989. With the end of the Cold War
and a significant decline in the threat from the former-Soviet
Union, we have developed a new National Security Strategy. Our
new strategy hinges on Engagement, engagement with old friends
and old adversaries alike.
The goals of our strategy are: to enhance our security with
effective diplomatic representation abroad; to deter war but,
should deterrence fail to be ready with military forces that are
prepared to fight and win; to bolster America's economic
revitalization, primarily by means of free and open trade; and to
promote democracy abroad.
Our new national strategy and a declining threat have
enabled us to cut our military personnel by one-third, that's a
reduction of 700,000 high quality volunteers, the soul of our
Armed Forces and the real source of our military power. Today,
worldwide, the United States has less than 1.5 million people in
its active forces . In terms of combat formations, we have
reduced Army divisions and Air Force wings by 45 percent, and
Navy ships by 38 percent. Our defense budget has been reduced by
40 percent over its high point in the Cold War. And as some of
you may know, three days after I leave China, we will announce
the results of a major defense review, one that will result in
further modest cuts to our Armed Forces.
In the interest of transparency, I have asked the staff here
to distribute some charts, which show the current location and
status of all of our forces worldwide. These charts are from the
detailed Department of Defense Annual Report, a few copies of
which I will give your President for your library. I will also
leave behind a series of publications that detail the
characteristics of nearly every major American weapons system, as
well as other pieces of equipment.
But data on our force structure doesn't tell the whole story
of the U.S. Armed Forces after the Cold War.
In America, many observers noted with some irony that the
Cold War was followed by a hot peace! After the Cold War, we
found ourselves faced with some new regional aggressors, like
Iraq, as well as some old ones, like North Korea. Those were the
greatest and most immediate threats to our interests.
But after the Cold War, we also found a world adrift in a
sea of instability, with disintegrating states, ethnic conflicts,
the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,
and the rise of sophisticated terrorist movements.
To protect our interests, U.S. forces together with those of
our friends and allies have had to carry out a number of
operations around the world in such places as Bosnia, Haiti, and
the Middle East. Most of these operations have been peacekeeping
operations, humanitarian assistance, or operations to evacuate
civilians, including on several occasions, Chinese citizens from
war-torn areas. Interestingly, none of our major operations have
taken place in the Asia-Pacific region, which, compared to
Europe, Africa, and the Middle East is an island of relative
As you might suspect, as the environment evolved and our
appreciation for this new world evolved, so has our defense
strategy. We abandoned the Cold War strategy of containment and
the bilateral competition of the Cold War.
While we cut back our forces, we re-oriented them on the need to
respond to two, nearly simultaneous, major military conflicts,
such as we might face with Iraq or North Korea.
But, over time, this two major conflict posture, as
important as it was, failed to adequately describe the whole set
of requirements that faced our Armed Forces. As we worked to
build a strategy to guide our forces into the Twenty-first
Century, we came to see our key tasks in a new light.
For the future, our Armed Forces worldwide will focus on
three tasks. First, we will seek to shape the strategic
environment, hoping to prevent the conditions that cause war, or
at the very least, deter war from breaking out.
Along with diplomacy and trade, our forces can shape a more
peaceful and stable environment by forward presence, security
assistance to our friends and allies, and military to military
contacts, which promote communications and help to reduce
But our attempts to shape the environment and to prevent
conflict will not succeed everywhere, all the time. As a second
major task, we believe that, when deterrence fails, we must be
ready to respond across the full spectrum of crises when it is in
our interest to do so. While we remain prepared for multiple
major contingencies, whether in Korea or the Middle East, we
recognize that the most likely form of conflict that we will face
will be a smaller-scale contingency operation. Included in these
operations are humanitarian assistance, non-combatant
evacuations, as we recently did in Albania, or peace keeping
operations, as now going on in Bosnia.
Whatever the level of our involvement, we believe that we
must also prepare for asymmetric threats, such as terrorism, the
use of chemical or biological weapons by an adversary, and even
attacks on our information infrastructure abroad or in the United
As a final task, we believe that the U.S. Armed Forces must
prepare now with a prudent modernization program to meet the
challenges of an uncertain future, one that promises to be as
challenging as today's environment. I tell my staff that
modernization spending today is the foundation of readiness
tomorrow. After a decade of limited investment, the United
States Armed Forces must have an investment program, that unites
our efforts to replace old and aging equipment and adapt to the
Revolution in Military Affairs, with efficient acquisition and
In the next decade, our nation will probably not spend more
on defense than we do at present. To afford modernization, we
will have to work harder and work smarter. And part of improving
our forces in the future will come from harmonizing the force
development efforts of all of our services and our unified
commands. A year ago, we published Joint Vision 2010, based on
new operational concepts, which will guide the development of our
Armed Forces for the next 15 years. Everything -- doctrine,
training, senior officer education, requirements, procurement --
all of these things hopefully will be influenced by Joint Vision
2010 and its implementation documents. Again, in the interests
of transparency, I will leave copies of this document with your
So, that is the essence of our new defense strategy: shape a
peaceful and stable environment, respond to crises and conflicts
as necessary, and prepare for the future with a balanced,
sensible, coordinated modernization program.
How does all of this apply to our policies in the Asia-
Today, in the Asia-Pacific region the United States has
vital security and economic interests, some of which have roots
that are more than a century old. Because of its geography and
its interests, the United States is and will remain a major
power in the Asia-Pacific region.
First, geographically, we are, just as China is, a Pacific
nation. The Pacific Ocean washes the coast of the continental
United States and the states of Alaska and Hawaii. When I go
home to the state of Washington, on the west coast of the United
States, I awake each day to the sounds of the Pacific Ocean. And
the state of Hawaii and our territories extend thousands of miles
into the Pacific.
But we realize that we are not alone in the Asia-Pacific
region. We realize that this vast region is an area where four
great powers have overlapping interests. In this century, we
have fought three wars in this region. And in the next century,
we do not wish to repeat that.
Second, we have major allies and friends like Japan, the
Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines, who
also want our presence in the region as a force for peace and
stability. In keeping with that, the United States, ashore and
afloat, maintains about 100,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and
marines in the Asia-Pacific region.
Indeed, among our friends and allies, there is some
misplaced anxiety that we may soon reduce our military presence
in the region. On that issue, let me repeat what Secretary of
Defense Cohen recently said. We have no plans to reduce our
troop presence in the Asia-Pacific region. To reduce our troop
presence could destabilize the region and could set off a heated
arms race in the area. And thus, we think the whole region,
including China, benefits from our presence.
But having allies presupposes that they see a common threat.
It is fair to ask: what specific threats do the United States and
our friends and allies see in the Asia-Pacific region?
First, and most threatening, is the unpredictable regime in
Pyongyang, which poses a major threat to peace on the Korean
peninsula and in the surrounding area. This threat is magnified
by the regime's current economic problems and its apparent
inability to feed its population. This is a sad situation.
Today, the security situation on the Korean peninsula is worse
than it was 25 years ago, when I served there as a military
Let me add that we continue to welcome China's active
participation in the four power talks and its bilateral efforts
to help reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. And we
appreciate China's efforts to help us keep nuclear weapons off of
the Korean peninsula.
Other threats in the region may come in the form of nuclear,
chemical, and missile technology proliferation both in the region
and coming from the region. We are, in that light, very
concerned about arms transfers by China to Pakistan and to Iran.
In the region, there are also some significant territorial
disputes concerning Japan's Northern Territories, as well as
islands in the South China Sea. And finally, drug trafficking
and the ever-present potential for terrorism are both cause for
In addition to these specific, well-known threats to peace
and stability, there are also uncertainties that concern every
nation in the region. Among these uncertainties is what will
happen this summer with the return of Hong Kong to Chinese
sovereignty. As the clock in Tiananmen Square counts down the
hours, we hope that the reversion of this vibrant city to Chinese
control takes place peacefully and with respect for the welfare
and the human rights of the people involved.
On the issue of Taiwan, the United States remains committed
to our policy of One China, as defined in the three communiqus
and the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. law on this issue. Again,
we hope for the resolution of the issue, which is clearly a
matter for the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits
to resolve in a peaceful manner.
But we are all also concerned with the peace and stability
of the region and in the surrounding international waters. I
would be remiss, if I did not add here, that last March we were
concerned by the harsh rhetoric and some of the military actions
in that area, that may have had unpredictable consequences. We
are pleased that this situation is beginning to move onto the
more constructive path of rational dialog. We hope, as I am sure
you do, that future developments concerning Taiwan will take
place peacefully, with full respect for the welfare and human
rights of the people involved, as well as for freedom of
navigation in the area.
A final reason why the United States will remain a major
power in the Asia-Pacific region is that the U.S., like China, is
a trading nation, with one-third of our annual product tied to
our exports and our imports. The Asia-Pacific region is not only
the engine of world economic growth, but it is also home to five
of America's top ten trading partners. U.S. trade with East
Asia alone surpasses 400 billion dollars, annually accounting
for more than 3 million American jobs, and 40 percent of our
Thus, for both economic and security reasons, we in the
United States believe that peace, prosperity, and stability in
the Asia-Pacific region are vital to our interests. And we know
that to a large extent you share many of those same interests.
China is a Great Power, and it is rapidly becoming a Greater
Power. And believe me, we see your development, as being in our
interest. I am told that there are some people here in China,
who believe that the United States seeks to contain China.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Containment would have
to include severe political, economic, and military policies,
none of which are in evidence in our policy toward China. Our
interests can only be served, in the words of Secretary of State
Madeline Albright, by a China that is neither threatening nor
threatened. In the information age, at the dawn of the 21st
century, our security and prosperity, and your security and
prosperity are inextricably linked.
President Clinton said that we are anxious to see a China
that is stable politically and open economically, that respects
human rights and the rule of law, and that becomes a full partner
in building a secure international order.
The mutual interests of China and the United States demand
better understanding, clearer communications, greater confidence,
and deeper cooperation. And military-to-military contacts must
be an essential part of all that.
But these military-to-military contacts must not remain
limited to occasional meetings between senior officers, or
routine troop or ship visits. To be a fruitful form of
engagement, our military-to-military contacts must deepen and
become more frequent, more balanced, and more developed.
Our mutual goals are easy to understand. We, as two of the
great powers in the Asia-Pacific region, both seek to decrease
suspicion, further mutually beneficial military cooperation, and
lessen the chances for miscalculation in a crisis.
For our part, to accomplish these objectives, the United
States wants: a more equal exchange of information with the PLA;
the development of confidence building measures to reduce further
the possibility of miscalculations; military academic and
functional exchanges; PLA participation in multinational
military activities; and a regular dialog between our senior
We want these things for our own interests, and we are sure
that China has a similar list. Let's compare our lists!
One item that should be on both of our lists is the
completion of the Military Maritime and Air Cooperation
Agreement. This latter agreement will improve our protocols for
communications between our forces at sea and in the air. It will
create common expectations and lessen the possibility of
miscalculation throughout the vast Pacific Ocean area.
But we should not fool ourselves. Improving our military-to-
military contacts will not be easy. And in order to earn big
dividends, we must make a big investment. If we listen to the
suspicious side of our military minds, if we don't pursue
exchanges on a fair and equitable basis, if we lack openness,
transparency, or reciprocity, or if we hold back even routine
information on our military forces, then we will fail.
To succeed, we will have to overcome our past and struggle
up-hill against our suspicions to reach the point, where,
together, we can with greater confidence see a better future.
But if we make that climb, if we get to the top, we will know the
truth of the words spoken by Zhou Enlai to President Nixon:
... on perilous peaks dwells beauty in its infinite variety.
Thank you for your attention.