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Media Availability w/Secretary Cohen and Gen. Zhang, Peoples Republic of China

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and General Zhang Wannian of the People's Republic of China
September 15, 1998 10:50 AM EDT
Secretary Cohen: General Zhang and I have just signed an agreement committing the United States and Chinese militaries to work together on environmental security. The United States and China have both established programs to minimize environmental damage from military activities. The programs have different approaches. The United States stresses the use of technology. China emphasizes natural processes and procedures. We can learn from each other's methods.


During our productive meetings, we covered other ways to deepen, to broaden and to advance our military relationship. For example, we discussed the need to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We agreed to carry out sand table exercises on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in 1999, and we discussed the importance of combating international terrorism, particularly as it pertains to the use of chemical or biological attacks.

We also agreed to a Chinese ship visit to the United States in 1999 and to conduct a seminar on sea search and rescue. In 1999, each country is going to allow the other to observe specific military exercises. And we agreed to exchange some military students beginning with short course programs. We agreed that China will send a delegation to Sandia National Laboratories cooperative monitoring center. This is going to allow the PLA delegation to study ways to enhance measures to build security and competence.

These meetings allow frank dialogue on global and regional security issues of mutual concern. And we are working together where we can openly discuss issues of disagreement that arise as well. We believe that Gen. Zhang's visit will expose him and his entire delegation to U.S. military institutions and society in ways that will build mutual understanding and continue to foster more stable relations and understanding between the world's most populous country and the world's most powerful country.

Gen. Zhang: Ladies and gentlemen, at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Cohen, my wife, my colleagues and I are delighted to visit your beautiful country. I would like to take this opportunity to convey through the press my cordial greetings and the best wishes to the officers and the men and the people of the United States.

Both China and the United States are countries that carry considerable weight and share the major responsibilities in the world. To maintain and develop a healthy and stable relationship between our two countries is in the fundamental interest of our two sides and conducive to peace and stability in the world. Since last fall, President Jiang Zemin and President Clinton have successfully exchanged visits, bringing [the] China - U.S. relationship into a new stage of development.

The improvement of the bilateral relationship between China and the United States has created favorable conditions for the development of their military-to-military relations. Since the beginning of this year, the relationship between our two militaries has gathered a good momentum of development following a series of exchanges of high-level visits and the professional exchanges.

Inspired by [a] desire to enhance mutual understanding, expand common grounds, develop cooperation and view the future together, my colleagues and I have come to the United States to further implement the agreements reached between the two presidents concerning the military field, make arrangements for the next set of military-to-military exchanges and promote further development of the relations between our two militaries. A few minutes ago, I held talks, formal talks, with Secretary Cohen to exchange views on issues of mutual interest. The talks were positive, constructive and productive. The joint declaration on the exchange of information in the field of military environmental matters we signed several minutes ago is, in particular, beneficial to the further development of state-to-state and military-to-military relations between us. I'm also looking forward to meeting with other officials of the U.S. government and the military and the meeting with friends, both old and new.

I believe that with the concerted efforts of our two sides, this visit will be a complete success and that the military-to-military relations between China and the U.S. will make fresh progress. Thank you. (Applause)

Secretary Cohen: Now we'll entertain your questions.

Q: Secretary, I might ask you briefly while this has been on the subject. You said yesterday that you are confident in President Clinton's ability as commander in chief. Might I ask you additionally as a member of the cabinet and as a Republican who took a chance in a Democratic administration, do you feel personally betrayed or disappointed in his actions in the Lewinsky affair? And do you think this will have any effect or harm [on] morale in the military?

A: (Cohen): I think everyone is disappointed at what has taken place. The question arises as to whether the President can continue to carry out his responsibilities. And I indicated that I believe that he can carry them out. He continues to be effective in dealing with national security and foreign policies issues. And as long as he is able to do that, then he will have the support, I think, of the American people.

Q: How about morale in the military where honesty and fidelity (inaudible) pride?

A: (Cohen): I have not heard any officer or enlisted man or woman raise this as an issue to me personally. Now, perhaps that's not a good test. But I have not detected any reduction in the state of morale of our military men and women. If it becomes an issue in the future, obviously, we'll deal with that. But I have not detected it to date.

Q: Secretary Cohen, how is President Clinton's situation different from that of Lt. Kelly Flynn, whose lying about an adulterous affair forced her -- resulted in her being forced to leave the Air Force?

A: (Cohen): Jamie, as you know, all of those who are in the military serve under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Secondly, and the President does not. Civilian overseers do not as such. But the President also has a different standard that he has to meet and that is to go before the American people for their support on two successive elections. And that also is a very tough and grueling experience, I would suggest, for anyone who seeks that office. The American people will pass their judgment on the President in due course.

With respect to, again, Kelly Flynn, it was not only the relationship but also the fact that it was a direct disobedience of an order. And that was also a factor involved there.

Q: Gen. Zhang, the TRC is planning to streamline the PLA and one of the outcomes of that is a hundred thousand PLA soldiers are going to be laid off this year. Is there some sort of strategy as to how to re-employ them, retrain them? What is the (inaudible) strategy of streamlining the PLA?

A: (Zhang): In line with the changed international situation, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has decided to cut down on the currently 3 million strong PLA by 500,000 people and to remain an armed force of 2,500,000.

You asked what we are going to do with those reduced forces. My answer is if they are soldiers, they will be discharged from the Army. If they are officers, they will be given new posts.

I can tell you by the end of this month, all those reduced armed forces will be discharged, and for this year, all those reduced forces for this year will be discharged, and they will either go back to their home or be given new posts.

Q: But General, given that there is a rising unemployment problem in China as you reform your state-owned enterprises, as China also bears the brunt of the Asian financial crisis, how do you plan to re-employ these soldiers? What exactly are they going to do?

A: (Zhang): There are some people who have been (inaudible) in the course of economic development since we introduced the policy of reform and opening up. But the Central Committee of the party has determined to resolve this issue in three years.

Q: Let me have a general question for Chairman Zhang. You know (inaudible) military-to-military high-level exchanges between the two countries in the past year. I wonder what kind of contributions are you making, your carrying weight with the United States? Thank you.

A: (Zhang): The role of my current visit is to implement the agreements reached between the two presidents concerning the military matters and to make arrangements for the next step of military-to-military exchanges. Secretary Cohen mentioned in his statement five areas of achievement.

It has been reaffirmed in the talks between the Secretary and I that with concerted efforts on both sides, the China-U.S. relationship will surely be pushed into a new stage of development. Thank you.

Q: Gen. Zhang, is the question of Taiwan discussed during today's talks between you and Secretary Cohen? Are you satisfied with the American role in the relationship across the Taiwan Strait?

A: (Zhang): Both China and the United States are major countries that are responsible in the world, and the two countries share extensive common interest, and there is great potential for further development of the bilateral relationship. Therefore, to maintain a healthy and stable relationship between the two countries is not only in the fundamental interests of our two peoples, but also conducive to peace and stability in this region and in the world.

You asked about the question of Taiwan. My answer is the question of Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue and the core of the China-U.S. relationship. The history of this relationship suggests that when this question is well handled, the bilateral relationship between our two countries will develop and progress. When it is not well handled, this relationship will be in trouble and even retrogress.

In June this year, President Clinton visited China. During that visit, he reiterated the one China policy and committed to the policy of three not supporting. I believe there won't be much of a big problem in our relationship so long as we follow the path of the August 17th joint communiqué and the commitment made by the presidents.

Secretary Cohen: I was just going to indicate that I agree that the issue with Taiwan must be well handled by both sides. The President indicated that we support the one China policy. He also, while in China, articulated our commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act. So we expect this issue to be resolved peacefully and both sides to work to that goal.

Q: Hasn't China warned the United States...

Q: My question is for Gen. Zhang. In this year's mammoth floods, the armed forces have been heavily involved in the fight against floods. Does that indicate a new or bigger role of the Army's involvement in China's economic development?

A: (Zhang): This year, China has suffered floods of the century. In 1931, the dike along the Yangtze River broke and the dike broke again in 1954. This year, in face of the unprecedented high water level, long duration and huge water flow, we have won a decisive victory and, I think, this first victory can be attributed to four factors. First, the strong leadership of the Central Party Committee and President Jiang. Secondly, the strong unity between the armed forces and the people. Thirdly, the material foundation which has been formulated in the past 20 years since we adopted reform and opening up, which has enabled other parts of the country to provide support to the flooded areas this year. And fourthly, the water conservancy projects we have built in the past years. And it also shows that when the people and the Army -- when the people and the armed forces are united as one, they are invincible.

Speaker: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, this ends our question-and-answer period. You have a photo opportunity right now.

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