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Under Secretary Feith Media Roundtable On U.S. China Defense Consultative Talks

Presenter: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith
December 09, 2002

Monday, December 9, 2002

(Also participating was Richard P. Lawless, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs)

Feith: I guess it's good afternoon. Good afternoon. This is what's called a roundtable here at the Pentagon.

Today our Defense Department and the People's Liberation Army of China held the fifth version of the Defense Consultative Talks. The Chinese delegation was led by General Xiong Guangkai, who is the deputy chief of the Chinese General Staff, and I headed up our delegation.

As you know, the U.S. relationship with China is important and complex, and we discussed in these talks the range of issues of common interest, areas where we agree and where we disagree. In the areas of cooperation, we covered issues like the U.N. work on Iraq, and the North Korean nuclear weapons program. And the areas of disagreement were, of course, headed by the issue of Taiwan, but also touched on China's military modernization, its proliferation policies, and how these affect the stability of Asia.

The talks successfully covered a whole range of topics. The purpose of the talks was to provide us an opportunity to review, in a comfortable setting over hours, this whole range of issues, and see where we have strategic matters that we can benefit from discussing together.

We got onto the subject of the U.S.-Chinese military-to-military exchanges. We had requested that the Chinese come up with a list of proposals earlier. They came to this meeting with a list of proposals for military-to-military exchanges for the coming year. Their proposal had lots of parts, and we are going to be reviewing it, and we were happy that they came forward with the suggested ideas. China has proposed that we conduct the sixth Defense Consultative Talks sometime in the coming year.

On proliferation, the United States urged China to live up to its proliferation commitments. The continued proliferation by China of nuclear, chemical and missile-related materials and technologies remains a problem, and we raised questions about China's historical support for North Korea's missile program. The Chinese assured us they are not providing missile technology to North Korea.

We talked about destabilizing aspects of China's military modernization -- for example, some of its acquisitions, its missile build-up and some of its exercises.

On missile defense, we told the Chinese officials, as the United States has said on a number of occasions, that the U.S. missile defense program does not threaten China.

On North Korea, we agreed with the Chinese on the importance of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. We asked China to use its influence and its insights into the North Korean regime to help us encourage that regime to eliminate its nuclear weapons program, and to do it in a way that's visible and provable.

On Iraq, we discussed the UNMOVIC [United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission] work and the resolution, and agreed to try to maintain our cooperation in the U.N.

On Taiwan, the United States reaffirmed our position on Taiwan. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, China did not renounce the use of force to resolve the Taiwan conflict. But we did have a discussion of the subject.

And lastly, the Chinese shared with us their new defense white paper, which is hot off the presses, and we were told that we are the first foreign defense ministry to receive a copy of this document entitled "China's National Defense in 2002."

And with that, I'll be pleased to take your questions.

Q: Doug, we hear from a senior defense official ahead of this meeting last week that the United States wants to put the China relationship, at least the mil-to-mil relations, on a new level; they want more openness from the Chinese and more reciprocity and dealings with the Chinese, everything from trips, visits and exchanges of personnel, so that -- apparently, the administration's perceived that it's been unfair previously, that the Chinese have gotten more than the Americans. Did the Chinese agree to more reciprocity in the relationship with the United States; more openness, reciprocity? Do you feel you've made progress in that direction, I guess?

Feith: I don't want to claim progress, other than the value inherent in having discussed it in, I think, in a pretty good discussion. We spent some time on that subject and talked about reciprocity and transparency and what we mean by those terms and what we want to come out of our military-to-military exchanges.

The point that we started with was that if we're going to have military-to-military exchanges that are worthwhile, this is doable if there is the political will on both sides to do it. We made the point that there is the political will on our side to have good military-to-military exchanges with China. We see that if those exchanges are structured properly, they will serve our interests, they will serve our common interests. And the principal interest is in reducing the risks of mistake, miscalculation, misunderstanding.

If these military-to-military exchanges actually lead to our gaining insights into Chinese thinking and policies and capabilities and the like, and they can gain insights into ours, then it doesn't mean we'll necessarily agree on everything, but it at least means that as we're making our policies, we're making them on the basis of accurate information. That's inherently a good thing. And we're in favor of exchanges that will accomplish that purpose.

What we're not in favor of are exchanges that are showcase pieces, that suggest that there's real cooperation when there's not real cooperation, or that don't really afford, you know, a significant learning experience to the people participating in the exchanges. And we discussed this and we reviewed the purposes of these operations, these mil-to-mil exchanges as we see it. And the response was basically that we should be able to make this work. So we'll see.

As I said, we had asked for suggestions from the Chinese that we hope will improve on the current state of affairs, which we think is less than what it should be, and we're going to study what the Chinese presented to us at the lunch today.

By the way, I did not introduce my colleague Richard Lawless, who is the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Asian affairs. I don't know if you want to add anything.

Lawless: No, that's fine.

Q: It was reported that President Jiang Zemin suggested to President Bush in Crawford that China would be willing to build down or decrease the number of short-range missiles deployed opposite Taiwan. Did that come up again in these talks, or did the issue of China's buildup of missiles opposite Taiwan? What can you tell us about that buildup?

Feith: The proposal did not come up at the talks, but the topic of China's missile buildup across from Taiwan did. We raised it.

Q: In what context?

Feith: In the context of discussing actions that do not contribute to the stability of the area. And we said that we thought that that is threatening and appears to be designed to, you know, coerce and intimidate, and that is not the right approach to reducing risks and tensions regarding Taiwan.

Q: And do you have an details on how many missiles are now deployed there, the numbers, 350 or 400?

Feith: I'm not going to comment on that.

Q: Sir, a follow up on that missile question. Could you confirm a press report saying that the Pentagon has quietly begun to examine a number of possible responses for the -- to the Chinese overture, meaning the possibility of them reducing or withdrawing the missiles deployed near Taiwan in exchange for something to be done by the U.S.?

Feith: No, I can't comment on that.

Q: Sir, did you discuss at all the administration's proposal to sell a new arms package to Taiwan, including diesel-electric subs? And if so, who raised the issue?

Feith: Didn't come up.

Q: You mentioned that you've requested China use its influence and insight to try to get North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons program. Can you give us a flavor for how strong their influence is with North Korea? Fifty years after the Korea War, is there still a real bond there? Or what's your expectation?

Feith: It's hard to say how exactly one measures something like influence. The policy that the United States is pursuing on North Korea is working with the various actors around the world who have the same basic view that we have that the North Koreans should be living up to their pledges and not pursuing nuclear weapons. We are working with the Japanese, with the South Koreans. We're talking to the Russians, the Chinese, the European Union. Those are the main players. And we're encouraging everybody that we talk to in this regard to bring to bear whatever influence they have, however difficult it is to gauge it, whatever influence they have on the North Koreans to persuade the North Koreans that they are not serving any good purpose, for themselves or anybody else, by violating the pledges that they've made on the development of fissile material.

Q: Follow-up, though. Did the Chinese -- what was their reaction? Did they see a threat, and will they follow-up? To what point?

Feith: It remains to be seen how much more they will follow up. They have said that they want a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. We agree on that. And it is clear that they have more lines of contact into North Korea than we do.

Q: Sir, after 9/11, well, some Pentagon officials have said this is a strategic talk, rather than to arrange port calls. Do you see an increase in the importance of U.S.-China cooperation, like War On Terrorism, North Korea, U.N. resolution on Iraq?

Feith: We are interested in having these talks serve as a forum for discussing strategic issues and not, as you note, simply going through checklists about port calls and the like. We invited a serious strategic conversation, rather than something that's more tactical or simply the mechanical reading of talking points back and forth. And I think to that extent, I think we got what we were proposing. I mean, we actually had quite a lively exchange back and forth, you know, real discussion; a number of people participated in the discussion. And it was not a stilted meeting where people just read talking points and you think to yourself, "Gee, we could have done this by mail." We actually had a conversation, and I think there was some use to that.

Q: I understand the destabilizing missiles and the exercises, but could you be more specific on what defense acquisitions you all find destabilizing?

And could you also say if China is going to be one of the small number of countries that the United States is thinking about sharing intelligence with regard to Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological programs?

Feith: On the acquisitions, all I will say is that you might want to take a look at the report that the Pentagon issued -- when was it? -- in July, I believe, this past July, on Chinese military modernization http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2002/d20020712china.pdf .

As for reviewing the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction declaration, we're going to be looking at that declaration very carefully in a deliberate fashion. We'll be working with all of the Security Council members, including China, on analyzing the information and making sure that we have as accurate and complete an understanding of what it is that the Iraqis have declared as possible.

Q: Secretary Feith, can I have a follow-up? When you raised the missile issues, what's the Chinese response? Do they still insist that the U.S. should stop selling arms to Taiwan so that they will consider to disarm or decrease the number of missiles?

And second question. Can you give us some comment about the Chinese white papers you just got?

Feith: I haven't read it yet. I just got it. (Laughs.) It has color pictures, I can tell you that. (Laughter.)

The Chinese commented about the U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan when we commented about the Chinese missile build-up across from Taiwan. That's fairly standard.

Q: Follow-up question on North Korea. Did you see any slight indication or signal from PLA that they're going to take concrete steps to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear program after today's meeting?

Feith: I'm sorry. Could you repeat the question?

Q: Oh, yeah. Did you see any indication from PLA that they're going to take concrete steps to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program?

Feith: I don't know whether they're going to take concrete steps.

Q: What kind of reaction was there, please?

Feith: As I said, there is a common interest that exists between China and the United States and is shared by these other parties that I mentioned: The E.U., Russia, South Korea, Japan -- I think a common interest to stop the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Exactly what kinds of concrete steps different countries are going to take, or different groups are going to take, singly or collectively, is still a topic of consultation among us.

I mean, we did take, as you know, the step within the KEDO organization of suspending the heavy fuel oil shipments to North Korea because of the North Koreans' uranium enrichment program. What concrete steps are taken beyond that remains to be seen.

Q: You mentioned that you assured the Chinese once again that the administration's missile defense program should not be seen as a threat to their strategic -- Did they seem to accept that or does there appear to still be some skepticism on their part?

Feith: I don't recall much response. I don't think they commented on that.

Q: Did they have any questions on the program, particularly the sea-based system at all, or were they non-commital.

Feith: No.

Q: Doug, excuse me. You also said that the Chinese proposed a schedule of military-to-military ties for the coming year. Did they propose major increases in that; for instance, exchanges of officers, ship visits that kind of thing? Could you just give us an idea?

Feith: Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to study it -- I mean, it was a presentation that was made, I mean, just two or three hours ago. I've been busy since then. I haven't had a chance to focus on it. We told them we appreciated their providing it to us, because we had asked for it, and we're going to look at it.

Q: Is the Pentagon interested in quick and major increases in mil-to-mil ties, or do you want to continue to kind of feel your away along, as you have over the past five years -- I mean, the past two years, especially after the EP-3 incident? I mean --

Feith: I wouldn't use terms like "quick" and "major." We're not thinking in those terms. What we're looking at is what I was trying to explain before; we're looking at military-to-military exchanges that serve a really useful purpose, promote better understanding of each other's thinking and attitudes and capabilities, and things that will -- programs that will reduce the risks of error. And if we get programs like that, we will support them wholeheartedly.

And when we talk about transparency and reciprocity, we're not talking about -- on the reciprocity -- but we're not talking about tit-for-tat, we're talking about something that really serves the interests of the sides. I mean, we're focused on our side (chuckles) but I mean presumably, if the whole idea of military-to-military exchanges is approached with the right attitude, it'll serve the interests of both sides.

Q: Then I take it you're not quite sure yet what the schedule -- what the form

Feith: No, I haven't had a chance to study it.

Q: Did the United States offer a list of ideas?

Lawless: Excuse me. Let me -- there's maybe perhaps a bit of a misunderstanding. I wouldn't characterize it as a schedule, a proposed schedule. Rather, it was a proposed agenda of different types of meetings in different categories. And we have to study it, go back, sort it out, and then decide what type of a schedule we would overlay on top of their proposal.

Q: Did the Chinese side -- apart from their comments about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, did the Chinese side raise any other issues that they see of the U.S. military posture in the region?

And beyond lively, how would you characterize the talks? Were they positive or difficult, given that you raised issues both of, you say, agreement and disagreement? Or are you reserving judgment on that?

Feith: It's always one of the great challenges, to come up with these two adjectives that everybody attaches to any of the -- you know, one of them is always "frank," isn't it? (Laughter.) Yeah. (Laughs.) Frank and cordial.

No, what I would say is -- the talks were useful. They were professional. I mean, we had -- and, as I said, they were real discussions. They were not just stilted set pieces. And that's good. I think -- let's put it this way: We came away, I think, with some additional understanding of the personalities on the other side and the ideas on the other side. And they said that they got some insights into our thinking from the talks too. So I would say that it was generally satisfactory, and -- you know, for everybody. And so that's why I said they were useful.

Q: While we have you here today, I wanted to ask you about the Iraqi opposition as well. I understand additional groups were designated today under the Iraq Liberation Act by the White House. Can you give us any sense when the training will start of the Iraqi opposition?

Feith: I'm not up on that. I spent the whole day with the Chinese. (Laughter.) So --

Q: Well can you at least give us a ballpark? Do you expect it in the coming weeks or --

Feith: I can't say.

Q: Equipment?

Feith: Sorry.

Q: Doug, a follow-up on the proliferation issue. It's reported today that North Korea is seeking a speciality chemical from some Chinese companies, which is raising the whole issue of Chinese proliferation. Did this come up at all? And what was the Chinese response to general concerns about China's arms sales to rogue states in an unstable region?

Feith: Well, I'm not going to get into details. I mentioned that it was -- the general topic of Chinese proliferation was one of the topics we discussed. As I said, I can't get into the details of the discussions.

Q: How about the issue of North Korea getting chemicals from Chinese companies, or seeking chemicals?

Feith: As I say, I'm not going to get into that level of detail. Sorry.

Staff: Sir, we have time for about one more before you've got to get out of here.

Q: Can you explain a little bit the significance of the talks? These are the first under the Bush administration. And you said the fifth like it was one of a series you've conducted, but this is the first since Rumsfeld and you have been in office, since the EP-3 incident. Can you give us a feel for the significance of the talks against that backdrop, and what it shows in terms of the Pentagon's attitude? Is there a major change in attitude toward China in the two years since the episode?

Feith: No. (Laughter.)

Q: Just in terms of color, was he wearing a uniform? And what did you have for lunch? Just briefly.

Feith: Yes. Salmon.

Q: Salmon. And he was wearing a uniform? Were they uniformed?

Feith: He was wearing a uniform. They were all wearing uniforms. Yeah.

Q: Any plans for the secretary to go to China? He said earlier this year that he had no plans to go. Has that changed as a result of this?

Feith: I don't think he has any plans to go, but he may at some point.

Q: Are you open to a visit from in the -- from the other direction, ministerial visit from China?

Feith: I haven't thought about it.

Thanks.

Q: Thank you.

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