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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz at the Foreign Press Center

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 29, 2002 12:00 PM EDT

(Meeting with reporters at the Foreign Press Center, Washington, D.C.)

Wolfowitz: My thanks to the Foreign Press Center for making this opportunity available.

As you were just told, I'm going to Singapore for what I guess is the first annual, that is to say, hopefully the first of a series of annual meetings sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies of defense experts from around the East Asian region, including both government and nongovernment, and government officials at the defense minister level. There are many forms of dialogue in Europe on security issues, including the very well-known Wehrkunde conference that takes place every year in Munich that has its history going back, I think, 35 years or more. One of the things that characterizes the security situation in East Asia is there is much less institutional structure, much less of a tradition of talking among countries, and I think it's very important to work on building more of a structure and more institutions. And so I was very pleased when the IISS indicated their determination to proceed with this project. And Secretary Rumsfeld is sorry that he can't go, but I get to go in his place, which is fun.

Just by way of trying to give an overview of what I think are the -- is the agenda, I think one way of putting it might be the following: As we look at our work in the Defense Department today, we have two big challenges.

One is the immediate and obvious challenge of the present of fighting a global war on terrorism, and that is an enormously preoccupying challenge that really takes virtually every waking hour. But we need to save some waking hours to think about the future, to think about the next decade, to think about the kinds of forces that we'll need to have 10 and 20 years from now to preserve the peace and, if necessary, to fight to defend our country and to defend our values and make good on our commitments.

Doing those two things at the same time is a challenge. And in the work we do from day to day, I find from time to time that people are so preoccupied with the issues of the present that sometimes the issues of the future are harder to focus on.

I have a feeling -- it's only a feeling; I'll find out better when I go to Singapore -- that for some of our friends in East Asia, the situation is almost reversed, that the war on terrorism seems in some ways perhaps remote, but the problems, the challenges facing East Asia in the coming decades, which are some of the more formidable challenges in the world and also some of the most exciting opportunities, are very much in people's minds.

Having spent the better part of 20 years of my career dealing closely with East Asian affairs, including three years as ambassador to Indonesia, I know the one thing that has contributed so much to Asia's progress has been that focus on the future and a view of the long term.

But I think it's also important for our Asian friends to understand that this war on -- these terrorist attacks are not just attacks on the United States. They're attacks on all of us. They operate in some 60 countries -- al Qaeda alone operates in some 60 countries around the world, including a number in East Asia; that they've made no secret of their desire to attack any targets that they consider Western, modern, democratic; and that this is a threat, I think, to all of us.

And indeed, I must say, we have a very impressive level of cooperation with our Asian friends, but that what this is really about, I think, is a conflict between terrorist who would like to take the Muslim world at least, and maybe a large part of the rest of the world, back to the Middle Ages and into a world ruled by intolerance and repression against the democratic values that not only the United States stands for, but an increasing number of countries in East Asia. In fact, I believe the experience of the last part of the 20th century demonstrates that East Asia has served as a model and example, I think, for many other parts of the world that what can be achieved when free people pursue their creative talents unrepressed by governments, that not only is enormous economic development possible, but we've seen, I think, great political progress and great political development in East Asia.

As I say, I think that was a model for the world during the last part of the last century.

I think it can also be a model for the billion-or-so people living in the Muslim world, where I think a big part of our challenge in this war on terrorism lies, because as the president has said, our goal in this struggle is not simply to eliminate terrorists, it's also to build a better world beyond the war on terrorism. I think it's the kind of better world that East Asians, in large numbers, have been building for the last two or three decades. It's the kind of world we'd like to see the billion Muslims build in the next two or three decades.

Moderator: Let's start up front.

Q: I'm Satoru Suzuki with TV Asahi of Japan. If I may ask you about Japan's participation in the campaign against terrorism. The Japanese government recently extended the period of self-defense forces support for Operation Enduring Freedom by six months. How about your expectation about the role Japan could play in coming weeks, months or maybe years? Why would it be so helpful for the entire operation if Japan sends Aegis destroyers to the region, despite the fact that we now have fewer, smaller and less-intensive fighting in Afghanistan? And in the context of Asian security issues, what about your position on Japan's prohibition against collective self-defense?

Wolfowitz: We very much welcome the renewal of Japan's commitment to assisting in the war on terrorism, and we appreciate very much what Japan has done already. Obviously, I think for Japan there are special considerations, that's why, indeed, we appreciate so much what has been done.

We can use help in almost every category that you can think of. Our forces are busy all around the world. We've had help even in defending the United States. Until recently, we had seven AWACS aircraft deployed by our NATO allies here in the United States. So every place that we can get some help is useful.

But I must say it's not just in the military field; the place where Japan has been most dramatically helpful and is very important is in co-chairing the conference on post-Taliban reconstruction in Afghanistan and in helping to lead that effort. Our goal in Afghanistan is not just to defeat the terrorists, but also to create conditions that will keep them from coming back in that country. That means there has to be a major emphasis on reconstruction and economic development, and Japan has taken the leadership role there. I might also say I know very recently Japan deployed some 600, 700 peacekeepers to East Timor, which is a new move, I think, for your country, and a very welcome one, and an example of a case where, while the United States has an important interest in seeing that peace is preserved in East Timor, we are very happy that there are good allies like Japan and Australia, South Korea, many others who have stepped up to that responsibility.

Q: Why Aegis ships?

Wolfowitz: As I say, almost every capability is useful. But Japan has to decide for itself what capabilities it can provide us.

Moderator: Let's go to the Philippines.

Q: Thank you. My name is Jennie Ilustre from the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I would like to know the purpose of your meeting with President Macapagal-Arroyo on Monday? I hope it has something to do with money because the Philippines is not getting as much money as the other Asian countries in the war against terrorism.

Wolfowitz: Well, then I imagine that's one of the things I'll hear about, right? (Laughs; laughter.)

Actually, for me, personally it's going to be rather exciting because my last meetings in the Philippines, I hate to say, were a long time ago when President Marcos was still the president. And I spent a lot of time talking to some heroic people, like Corazon Aquino, who ultimately brought about a great political change in your country. We are very supportive of the -- of Philippine democracy and consider it one of the big success stories of the last 20 years.

Clearly, the terrorists have the Philippines in their sights as well, and we are working with the government of the Philippines to improve the Philippines' own capability to deal with terrorists, particularly the Abu Sayyaf group in the south.

It's not -- I don't mean to dismiss money, and I'm sure we'll talk about money, but it's not just about money, it's also about training and technical skills. And I think we made a lot of progress.

All the reports that I've had, at any rate, from our commanders suggest that the Philippine forces have made very good use of the kind of training that we've been able to provide them. And I'm looking forward to going down to Zamboanga to be able to observe that firsthand.

Q: I'm Arin Basu from Radio Free Asia. China has long been concerned about what it calls terrorism from the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. In recent days, China has been asking the U.S. to return the Uighurs that it believes is in the custody of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Do you expect this issue to be raised at the conference? If the Chinese ask for the return of these Uighurs, how would the U.S. respond, the Uighurs that are in U.S. custody in Afghanistan?

Wolfowitz: I have no idea whether it would be raised. I'm not aware that it has been raised so far. We've had a number of requests from countries to have access to their nationals who are being detained in Guantanamo, and to the best of my knowledge, we've been able to accommodate all of those requests.

The question of whether or not we would release people to someone else's custody is a very difficult question. It depends on a lot of things. Most importantly, it depends on whether we believe that there's still important intelligence value to us in continuing to hold them. And that's a difficult question to assess because in many cases, in some cases, at least, we've had people who seem to be of very little value, and after 12 months or 24 months -- 12 months, I think, in the case of the millennium bomber -- suddenly turned out to be ready to tell us a lot.

So it's a case-by-case determination. If they have an issue to raise, I'll certainly look into it when I get back, but I'm not aware of it now.

Q: Mr. Secretary, my name is Vincent Chen with United Daily News, Taiwan. Before you joined this administration, you said in several occasions that the U.S. -- it serves the best of the U.S. interests to maintain a strategic-ambiguity policy towards cross- strait issues. Do you think strategic ambiguity is still mainstream thinking in the U.S.-China policy? And by the way, in a previous conference, you said that the U.S. does not support the separation of Taiwan from the mainland. I'm just wondering, is this a new message or connotation that the U.S. would foresee a unified mainland China and Taiwan -- a unified China consisting of mainland China and Taiwan?

Wolfowitz: I guess the trouble with having been around a while is I don't remember everything I've ever said. But I -- (laughter) -- I don't remember particularly being entranced with the idea of strategic ambiguity. In fact, I think a certain amount of clarity is valuable now, and I think the president has been very clear, has been very clear that we support a one-China policy; that that means, as you, I think, correctly quoted me, we do not support independence for Taiwan. But the other half of that equation is we oppose strongly any attempt to settle that issue by force. We support a peaceful resolution, even if it takes a very long time and a great deal of patience. We think that that is something that best serves the interests of Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan strait and best serves the interests of the United States.

Moderator: A question here.

Q: Charles Snyder of the Taipei Times. Obviously, any discussion of Asian security is going to have to take into account the situation in the straits of Taiwan. What sort of message -- what role is that issue, do you think, going to play in this conference? And what message are you going to have to the participants on U.S. policy towards the situation in the straits?

Wolfowitz: I think the message -- I have no idea what role it will play. I think the message is a very simple one, and it's the one I just really gave in answer to the previous question, which is that it is essential that those issues which are serious issues be resolved peacefully. And I think the sooner and more clearly a peaceful approach is taken, the better the chances are for solving those issues. But the use of force should not be acceptable.

Q: Parasuram with the Press Trust of India. I find that India is also one of the participants. I was wondering where India fits into the scheme of things in East Asia because India is now playing a major role in the fight against terrorism. Is that the main reason she was brought there, or is it the fact that we also jointly patrol up to the Straits of Malacca?

Wolfowitz: I guess you'd have to ask the conference sponsors why they invited which countries they invited. But I guess I would say that I think it's always been a little bit strange, and it gets stranger each year, to talk about East Asian security without bringing in India. I was assistant secretary of State for East Asian affairs 15 or 20 years ago. (Laughs.) And of course, our bureaucratic dividing line is on the eastern border of India -- or actually, eastern border of Bangladesh -- both, I guess. But you -- India's such a big part of the East Asian equation. Just the Sino-Indian relationship alone would be a reasons why India's presence would be important.

As I say, you'd have to ask the conference sponsors, but I think the general idea of the conference -- and I believe a general approach that the United States has been following over the last several years, including in the previous administration, is to try as much as possible to bring countries together in multilateral settings, to talk about problems. That doesn't mean that we in any way diminish the value of our extremely important bilateral security ties, particular with our treaty allies. But the experience, I think, of the last five or 10 years has demonstrated that the more you can get countries talking together about these big security issues, the more they begin to understand one another's positions, and I think the greater the chance of avoiding some of the dangers that otherwise we could find ourselves in.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Nadia Tsao with The Liberty Times, Taiwan.

The first question is, do you think in Asia we do need a collective security forum like NATO that can really deal the potential regional military conflict, and with the U.S.' participation? Would you bring this up during this conference to talk with other delegates in this conference?

And a second question is that we know that Mr. Peter Rodman is going to China very soon, maybe in two weeks, to talk about the resumption of a military contact with the China. What would you expect from his trip? Do you expect the resumption will start very soon, or do you think the obstacle that really stopped the contact or deferred the contact is still there?

Thank you.

Wolfowitz: First of all, I don't envision, and I'm -- I certainly don't envision a NATO-like security structure in East Asia. NATO has a unique history, a unique role. It started, obviously, from a Cold War period when we were allied together against a common enemy. It's evolved a great deal in the post-Cold War period. But I think East Asia's a very, very different situation where the diversity of countries, the diversity of interests doesn't call for that kind of structure of lend itself to that kind of structure.

At the same time, I do believe, in an Asian way, that partly through the initiative of ASEAN, with the Asian Regional Forum, but in many other initiatives, including now this initiative by the IISS, people are discovering that without formal structures as structured as NATO, nevertheless, multilateral discussion and coordination on security issues can be very important.

On the subject of U.S.-China military-to-military contacts, they weren't terminated, so it's not a matter of resuming them. Obviously, we had difficulties arising out of the EP-3 incident, and we've been reviewing those contacts on a case-by-case basis. We've been approving quite a few of them. But the purpose of Mr. Rodman's discussions will be, among other things, to try to get a firmer basis going forward so that there's more understanding on both sides about what's expected from those contacts. They can hopefully be more fruitful from our point of view and possibly from the Chinese point of view as well.

We think that contacts between our two militaries can contribute to reducing misunderstanding and building a more secure Asia in the future. So we would like to move forward.

Moderator: Let's go to the back.

Q: Thanks. Greg Turod of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong. You mentioned at the start of the two key issues, the two key challenges ahead. To what extent does the war on terrorism allow you to sort of link them, that is, in terms of the Asian region? How are your long-term goals being served by the war on terrorism? Are you able to build new relationships and things like that? And is that a part of your work?

Wolfowitz: It's an interesting question, though honestly, I must say, the fact that I have to think about it first says we're not thinking much about linkage. Maybe we should be thinking more. It's certainly true that one of the good things that was blown by that ill wind of September 11th was the significant change in our relationship with Russia.

And it's worth remembering that Russia is a Pacific power as well as a European power, and there will be a Russian delegation there, although I think not the Russian defense minister. In fact, I would say that I believe one of the challenges for building a more secure Pacific region in the coming decades will be to pay attention to Russia's security needs in the Asian region as well.

But on the whole, I guess we're not looking for linkages. We're really -- I think my experience with Asia has been that it's a pragmatic place where people solve problems individually without overdoing the linkages, and I think on the whole we do better that way. But where we can build a basis for cooperation with countries, as with Russia, then that's something to work with.

Q: I'm Jasmine Ibisano from the Indonesian Evening Daily. Do you or the U.S. government see the danger of jeopardizing the democracy development in Indonesia by resuming the military ties between the U.S. and Indonesia, considering that the military in Indonesia have been notorious for the human rights abuses? Thank you.

Wolfowitz: We think it's important to reestablish contacts between the U.S. military and Indonesian military, and we believe it's very important for Indonesia to proceed with military reform, for the reasons that you stated in your question, that the Indonesian military in the past has a record of treating its own people badly; and I think for the future of democracy in Indonesia, it's important that it change. The truth is, I think, though, that contact with the U.S. and with the U.S. military can contribute to that kind of change. And indeed, from my own experience when I was ambassador there, my sense was that some of the more progressive generals were precisely those who had experience in the United States, who had been to our schools, who understood what American democracy was about, who understood what the relationship between a military and a civilian government was about.

So I don't think these two goals are in conflict, and we hope to move forward on both at the same time.

Q: Hi. Phoenix TV of Hong Kong. I have two questions on China, one little one on Philippines. The question on China.

Wolfowitz: (How very appropriate?). (Laughs.)

Q: We heard this report to the Congress on China's conventional military capabilities that you are reviewing. Could you review anything on that? And secondly, will you talk about missile defense at this conference? And the Philippines is, will the U.S. troops pull out of the Philippines starting July 31st?

Wolfowitz: Let me start with that one. We have a six-month terms of reference for the current training mission in the Philippines, which expires, but we'll be discussing -- and maybe it's one of the subjects that I'll discuss when I'm in Manila -- what both countries want to do beyond that. We think there's still a need for training. We're there to train, and when the training is completed, then we don't have to go on.

But July 31st is just a date that was arbitrarily six months from when we started this.

I imagine missile defense probably will be a subject of discussion. It is almost everywhere we go these days. Personally, I believe that the events of September 11th demonstrate how important it is to take these threats seriously and not say, "Oh, it's far off in the future" or "Why would any rational person do that?" We've had some lessons in what supposedly -- not rational people, but -- at least not rational by our lights, but by their lights, can do. And I think it's a mistake to underestimate that kind of threat when people with hostility to us is so clearly sinking large amounts of their scarce national resources into developing those kinds of weapons.

Q: Chris Cockel from the China Post of Taiwan. It is known that the possible next stage in the war on terror may involve military action in Iraq. How important is the cooperation of China in planning this next move, and what advice would you have for the leaders in Taiwan at this time with regard to China's cooperation?

Wolfowitz: That's a clever way to work Iraq in! (Laughs; laughter.)

Q: (Off mike.)

Wolfowitz: The president was very clear in the State of the Union message what the problem is. The problem is countries -- and Iraq is one of them -- that have been open in their hostility to the United States, that support terrorism, and have weapons of mass destruction and they're working to acquire more. And as he said in the State of the Union message, that's not something we can continue living with forever.

He hasn't made any decisions yet on exactly what to do about that, and until he has, it's probably hard to answer any questions, including yours, so I think I would just leave it there. And now we're going back to East Asia. Back in the back.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Rosita Wall. Most recently, the Russian president, Mr. Putin, he paralleled the Russian assistance to Iran to the development, the U.S. development of missile programs in Taiwan. What's your comment on that? And my second question is that in war on terrorism, the U.S. has been sending the stationary troops to the Central Asia, which also aroused some concern from the China and the South Korean side. Would you address this problem or this -- you know, this issue in your trip?

Thank you.

Wolfowitz: I'm sorry, I'm not aware that Putin drew that connection. I thought he drew the connection to our North Korea program.

We're not doing anything with Taiwan in the missile area, and we're certainly not doing anything in the nuclear area. So if he drew a parallel with Iran, he made a big mistake, in my view. I don't want to accept the premise that he did, though. I'm not sure that he did at all.

The -- as to American presence in Central Asia, we are there in support of a war in Afghanistan that is aimed at capturing and killing and putting out of business terrorists who are responsible for killing thousands of Americans and who continue to plot to kill more Americans. That's why we're there. That's why we'll be there. We're not there with classic great-power ambitions, and I don't think any country that wants to see a peaceful, stable world needs to worry about what we're up to in Central Asia.

Q: I'm Yohei Mori, Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa newspaper.

And for the entire security environment in Asia, how important was it for U.S. forces, especially those in Okinawa? And one more question: Some Asian people, like Okinawan people, are demanding the reduction of U.S. forces' presence. So how do you balance on them?

Wolfowitz: Well, first, on the first question, I think that American forward presence, I believe, is crucial to stability in the whole East Asia region and, I think, recognized as playing a crucial stability role by almost everyone in the region.

Second, we understand that in Okinawa, as in Florida or Oklahoma or any number of places in the United States where we base our forces, that having forces around imposes some burdens. It also, by the way, brings some benefits. We work hard and constantly, including with the government in Okinawa -- the local government and with the government in Tokyo -- to try to reduce the burdens as much as we can and to increase the benefits as much as we can. And we appreciate that it's not always easy for the people who have us as neighbors. And that's why we work very hard to be as good neighbors as we can.

But there's no question that that presence is of great benefit, not just, I believe, to the people of Okinawa, ultimately, but the people of Japan and the people of the entire region.

Q: Roy Eggleston from The Australian newspaper.

Two questions, please: First, Australian troops are fighting with the U.S. in Afghanistan at the moment. Do you foresee a future -- a further Australian military role in the next stage in the war on terror, whatever that may be?

And secondly, in terms of security relationships in the region, the Asia Pacific region, they're mainly spoke and hub to Washington. Would you like to see any greater interrelationship between the countries; between, for example, Australia and Japan, between Australian and South Korea, South Korea-Japan, as well as with Washington?

Wolfowitz: Let me take the second one first. I think for the most part that those kinds of additional interactions are very valuable. That's one of the reasons why we have put a big stress in our Pacific Command on bringing people together in multilateral settings. And I think as long as people don't start creating exclusive groups, it tends to be inclusive and, therefore, I think very positive, and particularly when our close allies cooperate well with one another. And there's been, I think, a lot of positive development between Japan and Korea over the last 10 years. There used to be very little when I was assistant secretary. Those are, I think, positive steps.

I'm not here to predict anything in the future about the war on terrorism. I can say Australian troops are outstanding, and any time we can get them with us, we welcome that. Or any time we can get them taking on a tough job like East Timor without us, we welcome that even more, perhaps. So I'm sure there will be other requests, and Australia certainly stepped up to the plate right away and very impressively, and they've performed very, very well in Afghanistan.

Moderator: We have time for two more questions.

Here -- (off mike).

Q: Mr. Secretary, Norman Fu with the China Times of Taipei. You're considered the conceptualizer of the Bush administration. So my question, first, conceptually how do you view China? Is it like the previous administration, a strategic partner? Or in the current administration's language, a competitor, which we don't hear much these days. Or China is a threat, as suggested by the book, "The Coming Conflict With China." So that's my first question.

The second question, you have recently said at least twice that the sooner a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question is found, the better. That suggests to me there apparently is some kind of an urgency. Am I right in making that kind of an assumption? Is there some kind of urgency that the Taiwan issue should be resolved as soon as possible?

Wolfowitz: Let me take the second part first. I hope I didn't say anything like that. In fact, I believe I -- (laughter) -- I believe I said something more like the commitment to a peaceful approach may mean that one has to be very patient, but the patience is worth it. What I think I did say was the sooner the PRC adopts a peaceful approach to Taiwan, the sooner it will solve the problems. I didn't say it was urgent to solve them soon; I just think if you want them solved, a peaceful approach is the way to go, not threats and not confrontation.

A good friend of mine, Vernon Walters, who was a great diplomat, had three rules of human behavior. I've forgotten two and three, but number one was, "Anyone who says flattery will get you nowhere has obviously never received any." But -- (laughs; laughter) -- I'm not here to be the great conceputalizer.

I think -- I mean, I think one of the challenges about our relationship with China over the coming years, and even decades, is that you can't categorize it, you can't put it in a box. China's future is still very much to be shaped. And the real issue is will China develop into a powerful force for peace in the East Asia region, which it has the potential, or will it develop into a new, threatening power? It seems almost certain that China is going to be more powerful, certainly on the trajectory that it's on. The question is to what end is that applied? And I think it's extremely important for everyone -- Chinese and non-Chinese -- to try to do everything we can to ensure that it takes the first course and not the second.

Moderator: Last question.

Q: Sir, Jiang Zhan with Power TV of Taiwan.

This is a follow-up question to a previous question. On U.S. policy towards Taiwan, we usually hear U.S. opposition to Taiwan independence and the emphasis on the opposition on the use of force. We also heard something that you said a few days ago that went beyond the kind of statements that we have heard in recent years, which is, "The United States has no intention, has no desire to separate Taiwan from the mainland." What do you mean by this statement? Is there any particular meaning behind this?

Thank you.

Wolfowitz: I just think it's another of saying we're opposed to Taiwan independence. You've stated, I think, the position very clearly. And I've stated it very clearly already, I hope. And I think I won't try to make it any muddier by repeating it. (Chuckles.) Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Moderator: And thank y'all.

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