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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
March 19, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, March 19, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

[Also participating in this briefing: Colonel Douglas Kennett, Director for Defense Information]

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. I'd like to welcome the students of journalism from American University here who have come to watch the hardest working, most astute press corps in Washington fire questions at me. And I'm ready to take the questions. Charlie?

Q: Talk a little about the talks between Taiwan and the United States going on -- the arms talks... What is Taiwan asking for, including, is it asking for submarines? And will the United States be any more inclined to give submarines this year than they did last year [inaudible]?

A: Well, as you correctly point out, they've asked for submarines in the past. As a veteran of covering these talks, you also know that we don't discuss the details of the talks. They're supposed to be private talks between Taiwan and the United States and I'm going to respect that rule here.

Q: Are these official talks or unofficial talks?

A: These are annual talks that are the primary way for us and Taiwan to exchange views. They've been going on for years. Steve?

Q: Would the Administration be more inclined to give them what they want given the current threats from mainland China?

A: Well, we always review what they ask for and we will this year. I might point out that, in the past, we have approved some of their requests and they have not then acted on the request. So, there's sort of a three-stage process here: the first is what request do they make; two, how do we respond to their request; and three, even if we approve the purchase of certain equipment, do they then go ahead and buy it? They're constantly recalibrating their defense plans in light of their own strategic assessment. So...

Q: When are they scheduled to get the F-16s that they've had on order for some time?

A: I believe the first F-16s are supposed to be delivered next year. There are a hundred and fifty in all. I may have the list here. We announced all this. You can get that from DDI. We announced all this last week as a matter of fact. There's a very extensive list of equipment that's been already approved for sale to Taiwan.

Q: Do we... here's a key question. Is the situation involving the tension with China now going to have any bearing on the United States decision on requests by Taiwan?

A: Well, the Chinese [Taiwanese] weigh their strategic situation. They make their request and we also weigh their defensive needs when we make our decisions. So yes, that plays a part in what our decisions are, but a number of other elements play a part in what our decisions are: How does it fit into our arms sale posture generally? Are we prepared to make available to them technology that we may not have made available yet to other countries? There are a number of considerations that we have to work through in response to every request.

Q: Is one of the considerations the fact that the United States only officially recognizes Beijing as a government of China and not Taiwan?

A: Well, there are a number of considerations. We are committed under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself and that's one of the goals of our arms sales policy to them.

Q: Is it the Pentagon's assessment at this point that Taiwan is capable of defending themselves today from the current capability that China has?

A: Well, first of all, the Chinese have made it very plain that their policy toward Taiwan has not changed and that policy is to seek a peaceful reunification. We do not expect that Taiwan will face a need to defend itself. We expect that China and Taiwan will both continue their policies geared toward peaceful reunification.

Q: But does Taiwan, with the arms it has today, is it capable of defending itself against China's current military? Is there a balance of power there?

A: It could defend itself against certain parts of China's military capability. Secretary Perry has said -- and General Shalikashvili I believe as well has said -- for instance, that China doesn't have the ability to launch an amphibious attack against Taiwan. So, they would be able to defend themselves against an attempted amphibious attack. It's hard to seize territory unless it's actually -- it's hard to seize an island unless it's actually invaded. So, in that regard, I think that Taiwan is in a good position to defend itself.

Q: Apparently, one thing that both the Taiwanese and the United States worry about is a possible naval blockade of Taiwan and that, apparently, is what Taiwan is asking weapons for -- to break a naval blockade.

A: We do not anticipate that there will be a naval blockade. As I said earlier, we believe that both China and Taiwan will adhere to their policy of seeking a peaceful reunification over time.

Q: What about China's warnings to the United States to keep its ships out of the Taiwan Straits? Doesn't that amount to effectively closing an international waterway? What will the U.S. response be?

A: Well first of all, we do reserve the right to sail in the international waterways, but we have not sent our fleets there to provoke anybody. We've sent our fleets there to reassure countries in the region of our interest in free navigation and our interest in peace in the western Pacific. We're a naval power, a major naval power in the Western Pacific. We ply the sea lanes there regularly. We've been through the Strait in the past. I assume we'll go through the Strait in the future. I can't tell you when.

Q: So is the United States effectively ignoring this warning from the Chinese? Or what is our response?

A: Our response is that we reserve the right to go through international waters.

Q: Ken, did you say that there is a list detailing the military assistance to Taiwan with the U.S.?

A: Yes, we put out a list last week, which -- I don't happen to have it here -- but it's a fairly extensive list.

 

Q: I asked in DDI for a list before the briefing. I was told there wasn't...

A: Well, we issued one last week and if we issued it last week, I think we can issue it again this week. There were actually newspaper stories on the list and we got fairly extensive coverage, even in South America, where I was monitoring the coverage of the Pentagon, I saw that it got fairly extensive coverage. John?

Q: Did you drink the water?

A: I did not. But I never drink water when I travel except bottled water.

Q: Can you shed some light, please, on the plan the U.S. government has for the deployment of all the U.S. naval ships around Taiwan for the period after this Saturday -- after the elections? Are you going to keep a fairly healthy naval presence around Taiwan until the Chinese exercises are completely over and everything is settled down?

A: We'll keep an appropriate naval presence in the area. And we'll have to decide what is appropriate when we look at the situation after the election.

Q: By keeping that naval presence there, does the United States become de facto protector even though it has no treaty obligation?

A: As I said, we're not there to provoke anyone. We're there to show our interest in peace and stability in Asia. We have 100,000 troops stationed in Asia. We have a substantial military presence in Asia. We believe that this military presence has helped bring about an era of peace and prosperity throughout all of Asia and we're interested in preserving that. We believe that all the countries in Asia are also interested in preserving that atmosphere of peace and prosperity.

Q: Does this make you a de facto protector, or would you, in the event of aggression, just turn tail and leave?

A: We've said that we would take any attack against Taiwan very, very seriously. We don't expect that there will be an attack. We do not expect military action here. The war fever that appears to be evident in the press is not shared in Taiwan. It's not shared in the United States government, nor is it shared in the Chinese government. From all public statements, everybody expects that there will be a peaceful... These are military exercises which will end when they're scheduled to end, they will not lead to military action. They're exercises that China and Taiwan will return to their policies of peaceful reunification.

Q: The government of Beijing says that the presence of U.S. ships is provoking them and raising the tension. So, they say that what you are saying is not so.

A: Well, the government in Beijing is comprised of many people and one of them is Li Peng who said that some military action or some movement through the Strait could be a complicating factor. We have made it very clear that we're not there to protect people. We have made it very clear that we're not there to complicate the situation. We are there to reassure countries in Asia of our interest in peace and stability and prosperity in Asia. It's that simple.

Q: Can I get an answer to the question... Does that mean you are not there as the de facto protector?

A: We are there as the de facto protector of peace and stability in Asia. Yes?

Q: Ken, there seems to me to be an impasse here. China according --

A: Right here in this room?

Q: No, sir. On this issue. Not at all in this room. But in this issue, generally, there seems to be an impasse. China claims to be the protector of Taiwan and as its sovereign territory and the United States is also acting as the protector of Taiwan. There seems to be a conflict of interest and I wonder if there would be some solution in possibly joining with China and Taiwan in some kind of a trilateral security arrangement, some other approach to this, diplomatically.

Q: Bill, as you know better than anybody else, we adhere to a one China policy and that's been our policy for years. And part of that policy is that any reunification between China and Taiwan will be peaceful. That happens to be the policy of China. It happens to be the policy of Taiwan. We expect that policy to prevail. I don't think there's a need for the type of arrangement that you suggested. We expect that when the elections are over in Taiwan, and when the military exercises end, the Chinese troops will return to their barracks and, over a period of time, China and Taiwan will be able to re-establish the type of dialogue they've had over the last few years. It's a dialogue that's not only included diplomacy, but it's also included a considerable amount of economic contact. We assume that will continue to the mutual benefit of both China and Taiwan.

Q: Is there an issue here of face or saving of face with regard to the PLA, of the United States military show in the area?

A: I guess I don't understand that question.

Q: Well, I'm not sure I can explain it except that there may be an affront in that the Chinese military believes that they are the protector of Taiwan and the United States is butting-in. Is this perceived to be a real mindset of the PLA?

A: I don't accept the characterization that we're "butting in." We have a substantial naval presence in the Western Pacific. We've had it there for years. We will have it there for years to come. We regard it as essential to maintaining peace and stability in the area. That's our interest and we'll continue to pursue that interest. I don't consider that "butting-in."

Q: Is the Chinese Defense Minister coming...?

A: The Chinese Defense Minister is scheduled to come sometime in April and we're currently reviewing the format for the meeting.

Q: You made a "scheduled" comment. The Chinese said, he is coming in April.

A: The current schedule is that he's to come in April.

Q: Ken, if the U.S. Government is so confident that after this exercise everyone will return to barracks and that it's really just the press beating the drums here, why is the U.S. having two carrier task forces float around in those waters?

A: First of all, I didn't say it was just the press that's beating the drums here. I said that the press seems to be...

Q: The "war fever" is the press... is not shared by the governments of Taiwan, U.S., or Beijing... Why are we sending two carrier task forces?

A: We have sent our carriers there to maintain stability in the area. We are interested in stability in the area. That's why we have a substantial military presence in Asia. And that's why we've sent our carriers there.

Q: With the goal of maintaining stability and peace and security in the area, is there any overriding need this week to sail through the Taiwan Strait? Considering you say they are not there to provoke anybody?

A: I haven't... Look, what I've said is that we reserve the right to sail in international waters. Whether or not we sail through the Strait of Taiwan has not been decided.

Q: But its not necessary to maintain its presence?

A: I'm not... Our presence is clear from the carriers. Carriers are a big presence. They're hard to miss. Steve?

Q: Change of topic. Just a straight forward question. Can you tell us -- [laughter] at this point --

Q: What did you think mine was? [Laughter]

Q: Your's was a loaded question. This is an unloaded question. [Laughter] When is the NIMITZ now scheduled to arrive on station in the waters of Taiwan? And can you tell us whether it's scheduled to take a port call after it arrives?

A: I am not positive exactly when it is scheduled to arrive in the area. It will be around this weekend, but I'll try to get a more precise date.

Q: Before the election?

A: I will try to get a precise date.

Q: Do you know if it's scheduled to take a port visit in the region, while it's there?

A: My understanding is, it is. Yes.

Q: Do you know where?

A: I don't know right now where.

Q: On the subject of light reading. When will the P-1 and R-1s be available?

A: Do you know?

Col. Kennett: As soon as they're printed. [Laughter]

Mr. Bacon: We had said earlier that, "by the end of this month," and I think that we'll adhere to that. I've just been told by Colonel Kennett that the NIMITZ is expected to arrive on the 23rd or the 24th of March in the area of Taiwan.

Q: Ken, today's D-plus-90 in Bosnia, what's the Pentagon's assessment of whether or not the goals are being met?

A: We think that generally the military part of the operation has gone extremely well. We went there, as you know, prepared for a very -- well prepared for a very tough operation. And the training has paid off. We've been able to separate the forces. We've been able to avoid... We've been able to perform well in an area that's heavily mined. We have basically succeeded in separating the warring parties. We've succeeded in getting certain territory transferred that was called to be transferred under the Dayton Agreement. Today, D-plus-90, is the day that the transferred territory is being turned over to the other sides. We've protected that territory for 45 days without incident.

Sarajevo has been... The transfer of areas in and around Sarajevo have taken place. We feel that the mission has gone -- is going quite well. It's not over, however. It's very important that the second part of the mission -- the broader part of the mission -- which is civilian reconstruction begin. And that has been somewhat slower in getting off the ground than the military part of the mission. It's not surprising, when you think about it, because NATO moved in with an established chain of command, with forces that were trained and well prepared for the job they were undertaking, whereas the civilian reconstruction side has had to be built from nothing. And that's what is happening now.

Q: The U.N. spokesman there is saying that what's happening with the turnover of the suburbs of Sarajevo -- to call that a success would be silly. Do you think that what's happening with the turnover -- the looting, the arson, the exodus... Would you call this a success?

A: I call the separation of forces a success. I call the willingness of all sides to adhere to relatively peaceful conditions through the separation of forces a success. I think it's clear that all sides want peace and that's very helpful and also somewhat hopeful for the future. Obviously, what's happened in the suburbs of Sarajevo has been terrible. But, it illustrates the fact that we've all known from the beginning, here, that after a long and bitter war, healing does not come quickly. There's suspicion and that suspicion will continue for some time.

Q: Wasn't the military supposed to establish a quote "secure atmosphere" unquote and to prevent thugs and hooligans from running the suburbs -- the Serbs didn't even want to stay in the suburbs of Sarajevo -- from running them out?

A: Well, as I understand it, there are still about 11,000 Serbs in the suburbs. I think there were about 40,000 there in total -- I'll have to check those numbers -- but there still are some Serbs in the area who have chosen to stay. IFOR said from the beginning that it's not a police force. We have been trying to support the police, but it's very difficult to deal in a situation -- to deal with arsonists and others who are determined to destroy property. We can't protect every building in the Sarajevo suburbs. We've never promised to be able to do that. Steve?

Q: Ken, a different topic. The Army has finished its study of hate-groups within the ranks and the Secretary of Defense was briefed, yesterday, on this topic. Is he inclined to have such a study expanded to include the other services?

A: He was briefed on this study. He and the Army are now considering what the next steps will be and we should have an announcement about that in a couple of days.

Q: Can you just tell us whether the briefing he was giving indicated there's a serious problem with this in the Army?

A: I think I'll just let them both speak about the study when they come here on Thursday.

Q: One more, back to China. Ken, can the U.S. Navy -- the naval forces that are with the INDEPENDENCE at the present time -- successfully intercept and destroy a Chinese M-9 missile?

A: I don't believe that problem will arise.

Q: Ken, last week the Pentagon spokesman standing in for you indicated that the United States had received private assurances that China would not initiate any hostile act against Taiwan. That seemed to go beyond public statements we heard before that simply said that China favored a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Can you just amplify, clarify, or put that into context about what kind of assurances the United States has received from China about its intentions?

A: Authorities in the Peoples Republic of China have stated publicly, as well as in diplomatic exchanges, that there's no change in their policy and their policy is a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question. Based on that, we do not believe that an attack is in the offing. We believe these are exercises and only exercises.

Q: Can you also -- there's been quite a bit of talk in recent days about a purported threat made by some Chinese officials to quote "Rain nuclear weapons on Los Angeles". Can you put that into any context for us? Was such a statement made or what was the context for it?

A: The threat, first of all, is ridiculous. I cannot explain why some low-level person in China would do that. We see no reason to fear an attack from China. And China knows what the consequences of any such action would be. It's just a ludicrous threat.

Q: Ken, the U.S.-Taiwan Act says that under dangerous conditions the Administration would consult with Congress. Now considering the Chinese' violent reaction to the second task force, what has the Administration done, in a special way, to bring Congress into this?

A: We've kept Congress informed of what we were doing all the way along. Our policy has been very public from the beginning and we've consulted with Congress.

 

Q: Nothing special?

A: Well, consulting with Congress is informing Congress of what we're doing, discussing it with them. There have been multiple hearings in Congress on our China policy. There's going to be a hearing tomorrow on our China policy. Last week, I believe, or the week before, Secretary Lord of the State Department was up there with Deputy Secretary Campbell of the Defense Department talking about our China policy. I think there's been adequate consultation about this.

In the last week, last two weeks, Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili have been on the Hill testifying before congressional committees on the budget. There have been ample opportunities to ask some questions about China and Taiwan and questions have been asked. So, I think there's been ample consultation with Congress about this.

Press: Thank you.