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Press Conference with SecDef Cohen at St. Regis Hotel, Beijing, China

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 13, 2000

Thursday, July 13, 2000

(Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Cohen at St. Regis Hotel, Beijing, China)

Good evening. First let me apologize for keeping you so long. The meeting with President Jiang Zemin went twice as long as we had anticipated. It was scheduled for a forty-minute meeting and it lasted an hour and a half. But let me say that after two days of meetings, I will leave Beijing tomorrow with a conviction that both the United States and China see improved relations between our countries as a key to regional and global stability. And I want to thank my counterpart General Chi for hosting these meetings. Our discussions were very substantive, and I have invited General Chi to the United States to continue the security dialogue between our countries. In addition, of course, I had the opportunity to meet with the entire leadership other than Zhu Rongji who is still in Europe but is on his way back, but I have had the occasion to meet with all of the top leaders in China.

Our military to military relations are part of a broader policy of engagement between our two countries, engagement that is designed to advance stability and prosperity. China's decision to seek membership in the World Trade Organization and the Clinton administration's determination to win Permanent Normal Trading Relations for China will accelerate China's integration into the global economy.

Over the last decade, China has made major contributions toward supporting non-proliferation and arms control by joining international regimes such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. And while the United States may question whether China has done enough, it must be clear that China has taken significant steps toward integration into world and regional structures for stability and prosperity

During our meetings, General Chi said that China is prepared to take another such step by sending representatives to the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. This Center allows countries throughout Asia to discuss defense and foreign policy issues of mutual concern, and it is becoming an important factor in the regional security dialogue. Participation in this and other regional activities opens the door to greater multi-lateral cooperation on security issues. I believe that the United States and China are building a mechanism for increasing trust and confidence between our militaries. Of course, differences remain over missile defense, the pace of cross-strait dialogue under the one-China policy, human rights, and other issues, but we have a framework that allows our countries to work together productively when we can and to disagree peacefully when we cannot.

The military to military dialogue is a very important part of that framework. This is my ninth trip to China. I must say, I have seen dramatic changes since my first visit as a member of the Senate back in the 1978. These changes have led to a stronger China, and a more stable, prosperous world. Our continued dialogue will lead to greater opportunities for both countries. With that let me entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, at the time when you are here to try to assure the Chinese that the United States doesn't seek to contain it, doesn't the cancellation of the Phalcon AWACS sale send the opposite message, and how concerned is the United States about China's growing military power?

Secretary Cohen: Israel's decision on the Phalcon sale is, of course, a decision that Israel made. It was clear that the United States did not support the sale, but it was a decision, ultimately, that only Israel could make. It does not signal any attempt to contain China. I have said on many, many occasions that China cannot be contained. It is folly for anyone to think that that would be the case. It is a futile policy should one ever try to construct it. China is a great and growing power. It is important that it be fully integrated into the international economy, the global economy, and international regimes, and we believe that they are pursuing that in a variety of ways. Tomorrow, I will go to the Shanghai Stock Exchange to make an address from the floor. The stock exchange symbolizes China's entry into this 21st Century and the kind of prosperity that will be generated. A prosperity that will be shared throughout China itself. So, we are looking for a variety of ways in which we can promote greater cooperation and greater stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region and generate more prosperity for the people of China and throughout Asia-Pacific itself. This should not be in any way a signal that we are seeking to contain China. I don't believe China can be contained. Our policy is just the opposite, and that is to engage China.

Q: On the Phalcon sale, did this issue come up in your discussions this afternoon with President Jiang? If so, what did he say to you and how did you respond?

COHEN: The subject matter did come up, and it was raised during our discussions with President Jiang Zemin. The nature of our conversations and discussions of course remain private, but it was certainly of concern to China that the sale was cancelled. Beyond that, we discussed many issues, including Taiwan and our overall general relationship with China itself.

Q: Did Jiang give any indication of possible implications of the cancellation in future deals with Israel or the relationship with Israel and with the U.S. in this regard?

COHEN: I had no discussions pertaining to that. That's something, of course, between China and Israel, but there were no discussions about the future relationship.

Q: Would you describe the extent of differences with regard to the American effort for building up National Missile Defense? Have differences been narrowed as a result of your two day talk with the Chinese side?

COHEN: I don't know that our differences on the National Missile Defense have been narrowed. I gave an address this morning to the National Defense University and laid out exactly the architecture that we have in mind for a limited national defense program that is in the research and development phase. No decision has been made as far the deployment of such a system is concerned, but I also want to point out that the reason for conducting this research and development has been generated by the spread of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction which can be conveyed by these missiles. So I did take each and every opportunity to explain the reason for the program and the factors that will be taken into account as to whether or not the United States would proceed with it. We also discussed Theater Missile Defense programs. I know that's of some interest to Japan. We will continue our R & D programs on Theater Missile Defense as well, but what we did discuss is ways in which we can cooperate and reduce the spread of this kind of technology that will pose a threat not only to the United States, but to European countries, Russia, and indeed, even China itself. And so, there is an understanding that we need to curb the spread of these types of weapons.

Q: Several months ago, the Pentagon said that it was still considering the sale of Aegis warships to Taiwan. What is the status of the U.S. consideration for transferring these ships?

COHEN: We said that the needs for Taiwan would be evaluated as we have been doing in the past, that no decision has been made on the sale of an Aegis system to Taiwan. I must say that this is one of the reasons why we hope that there can be a reduction in tensions as far as cross-Straits dialogue is concerned. I believe and I believe I represent the opinion of a number of administration officials in this regard that President Chen Shui-bian does, in fact, offer some hope for reconciliation. He has extended statements which, I believe, have shown some flexibility and there ought to be creative ways to take advantage of that flexibility to bring about a peaceful reconciliation with Taiwan. This is something that the United States strongly supports and endorses. To the extent that there are greater pieces of military equipment that are targeted against Taiwan, this increases the pressure for the Taiwanese people to request further sophisticated equipment to defend Taiwan itself. We are seeking to reduce those kinds of tensions, and hopefully, we can achieve that so there can be a peaceful reconciliation. We do support the one-China principle; we do support the Three Communiqu├ęs. As I've indicated at each and every meeting, we also support the Taiwan Relations Act and will continue to do so, but what we want to see is a peaceful reconciliation. We do not support Taiwan's quest for independence, and we think that there should be reconciliation brought about on a peaceful basis.

Q: Now that your visit is taking place and military contacts are sort of getting back on track, what are the possibilities for more tangible sorts of contacts such as base visits, or possibly even joint maneuvers on things like humanitarian work and search and rescue efforts, and what are the possible impediments to those kinds of contacts?

COHEN: Well, these are precisely the kinds of things we discussed during the course of the last two days. It's to pick up where we were back in 1998 -- my last visit that was interrupted during 1999 -- but to put it back on track so that we can, in fact, have greater cooperation -- more ship visits. We have Chinese ships on their way to visit Honolulu and Seattle. We have American ships that will visit China. We, as I indicated in my statement, will now have participation on the part of China in terms of the Asia-Pacific security studies. We signed yesterday an agreement to have greater cooperation in terms of environmental programs. We hope to be able to explore ways in which we could have cooperation in responding to humanitarian disasters and also eventually on peacekeeping types of matters. All of this we're taking step by step in an atmosphere of very good will and genuine desire on the part of both the United States and China to pursue this level of cooperation.

Q: The Associated Press reported today that you were given assurances yesterday that China would not attack Taiwan. Were you given those assurances and could you explain what exactly you were told by the Chinese officials?

COHEN: I did not see the press report on that, but the Chinese officials, including President Jiang Zemin, have indicated that they do not in any way give up the sovereign right to use force. But it's also clear from the statements that have been made, it is not China's intent to use force, but they reserve that right. What we have said is that we believe that this is a political situation and a matter that must be resolved politically and not militarily, and we are trying to work together to bring about a result that is in our interests, the Chinese interest, and that of the Taiwanese people. But if the statement indicated that they have, in fact, given up any right to use force in the future, that is incorrect.

Q: There's been some concern in the U.S. Senate that China continues to export missile technology to Pakistan. Did you raise these concerns with the Chinese side, and if so, what was their reaction?

COHEN: This was raised. I did raise this. It was raised last week when Under Secretary Holum appeared here in Beijing. I know that Secretary Albright has also raised the issue. The Chinese officials have indicated that they are complying with their agreements that missiles are not being transferred to Pakistan. The question has to be resolved in terms of whether technology itself is being transferred and that's precisely the reason why these discussions have been underway, to satisfy ourselves that such technology is not being transferred.

Q: In any of these discussions, did President Jiang or other officials try to link the issue of their missile exports or missile technology exports and their refusal to sign on to the MTCR? Did they explicitly link that to American arms sales to Taiwan?

COHEN: No.

Q: I have a question about NMD. Regardless of whether NMD is or is not targeted toward China, it will result in a change of the strategic balance if the Chinese say they only have around 20 or so delivery systems for their nuclear forces. Was the U.S. position that it will accept a fundamental buildup of the Chinese nuclear arsenal in order to re-establish a strategic balance with the United States?

COHEN: Well, as I've indicated, there has been no decision at this point to go forward with the National Missile Defense system. The President has laid out the four criteria: namely, whether a threat exists or will exist; whether or not we have the technology to counter it; what the cost of such a system would be and what the impact upon arms control overall would be. So, these four factors will be taken into account before the President makes a decision. Obviously, the Chinese will decide for themselves what is the right balance as far as their own nuclear weapon missiles are concerned, how much, how many, and when, but that's something that only they can decide.

Q: I just want to clarify on the question of missile technology to Pakistan. Are you now satisfied that the Chinese are not transferring missile technology to Pakistan, or what's the status? What is the conclusion?

COHEN: The status is that these issues are still under discussion, and that is under the purview of the State Department. State Department representatives are continuing these discussions with Chinese officials and their counterparts.

Q: With regard to NMD, the driving force right now is North Korea by 2005. Have you received the updated threat assessment, the National Intelligence Estimate that's being updated, in anyway been briefed, or told what the headlines are in it?

COHEN: No.

Q: Both you and Mr. Holum gave assurances to the Chinese that the National Missile Defense System, as well as the Theater Missile Defense System were not designed with China in mind. And yet, China was identified in a Pentagon report last month as a country which is developing a military strategy for retaking Taiwan that would involve a conflict with the United States. Domestically, politically, could you build a system and not protect the United States against Chinese missiles?

COHEN: Our goal, should a system be deployed, is to provide protection to the American people against irresponsible nations -- be they called "rogue states," "formerly known as rogue states," or "states of concern" -- that those are the countries that we look to prevent from putting the United States in a position of being blackmailed and precluding us from taking action to defend our own national security interests. I do not believe that China falls in that category. It's very clear that we have talked in the past about North Korea, about Iran, potentially Iraq again, and other nations. China is not among them.

Q: Just coming back to the Pakistan question, Bob Einhorn in Hong Kong on June 8th said unequivocally that the U.S. believes that China is providing ongoing assistance to the missile programs in both Iran and Pakistan. Are you suggesting that the U.S. is no longer standing by that assessment? And also the second issue of sanctions against China for the 1992 transfer of the M-11 missiles, is there any progress on that issue? Will the U.S. be making a recommendation on that?

COHEN: What I am suggesting is that the matter is still under discussion and will continue to be under discussion until the matter is satisfactorily resolved. So, there has been no decision made, no conclusion reached, and we look forward to continuing the discussion to resolve any ambiguities or questions.