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Joint Press Conference with Adm. Mullen and Gen. Chen from the Pentagon

Presenters: Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), and Gen. Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (Pla)
May 18, 2011

                 [Note:  General Chen's remarks are provided through an interpreter.]

                CAPT. JOHN KIRBY (Special Assistant for Public Affairs, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff):   Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room.  I'm Captain John Kirby.  I'm Admiral Mike Mullen's public affairs officer. 

                I'm joined by Mr. Wang Baodong from the Embassy of the People's Republic of China. 

                Admiral Mullen and General Chen will each make a brief statement and then answer a few questions.  We'll alternate those questions between the Chinese media and the U.S. media. 

                Admiral Mullen. 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Good afternoon.   

                First, I want to thank General Chen for accepting my invitation to visit.  I know it's been a long -- it's a long way to travel, but he and I both believe it is essential to move this military relationship in a more positive direction.  And so I greatly appreciate him taking the time to join me in this dialogue.   

                And that's really what this visit has been about, dialogue.  We spent the bulk of our time talking, trying to understand the security environment from one another's perspective and trying to gain a better sense of the common interests we share, not just in the Asia-Pacific region but around the world.   

                Both of us recognize, for instance, the emerging challenges of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, resource competition, and climate change. And both of us understand the growing threat posed to international commerce by piracy.    

                In our talks this week, we committed to conducting a humanitarian and disaster relief exercise together next year.  We stressed the need for personal -- personnel and cultural exchanges, and we promised to pursue activities that improve maritime safety and security, including a counter-piracy exercise.   

                Clearly, our perspectives about such issues are unique and not always aligned, but I believe frequent dialogue can foster cooperation where interests converge and provide some context in those areas where we have differences.  This kind of candor is crucial for any good relationship, and I believe that's what we were trying to achieve in the end, a military-to-military relationship that supports President Obama and President Hu's vision for a more comprehensive United States-China relationship, a relationship based on mutual respect, mutual cooperation and mutual benefits.  It has always been my view that we can't afford to wait until we are in a crisis before we start to understand each other. 

                My hope is that through these discussions and in this visit, General Chen and I have begun to better understand one another.  And I believe that we have established a foundation upon which we can explain ourselves, and that we can begin to look forward to mutual transparency about what we are doing, how much we are spending and where we are operating. 

                The military relationship between China and the United States is vital, and it's critical in support of the larger diplomatic relationship and economic engagement. 

                I want -- again, I want to thank General Chen for his openness, his frankness and his commitment to this growing relationship.  I also want to thank him for inviting me and my wife Deborah to visit China in the near future, and we very much look forward to going.  Thank you. 

                General Chen. 

                GEN. CHEN:  My visit to the United States is a part of the consensus reached between President Hu Jintao and President Obama during President Hu's visit earlier this year.  It is a great pleasure for me to lead a senior PLA delegation to come and visit the United States at the invitation of Admiral Mullen.  We come with the friendship of the Chinese people and of the PLA. 

                Admiral Mullen places great importance to my visit.  He wrote several letters of invitation to me, where he expressed his hope that I can come at an early date.  He was also personally involved in the making of my visit program and instructed his staff to make very thoughtful arrangements for my visit.  I am grateful for that, and I see that not only as respect and personal friendship for me, but also a reflection of the friendship of the American people and American military toward the Chinese people and the PLA. 

                The purpose of my visit is to implement the important consensus reached by our two presidents regarding the development of our mil-to- mil ties and further enhance our mutual understanding, trust and cooperation to push forward our mil-to-mil relationship within the framework of the consensus of the two presidents. 

                Yesterday, Admiral Mullen and I had very frank, in-depth and fruitful discussion. 

                We both agreed that the opportunities facing our mil-to-mil relations far outweigh the challenges.  In the new international landscape under the new and complex and volatile international situation, enhanced cooperation between our two militaries serves the common interests of our two countries and two peoples and also benefits peace and stability in this region and the world at large. 

                We had in-depth discussion on further building our mil-to-mil ties within the framework of China-U.S. cooperative partnership, properly handling the difficulties and obstacles in our relationship. And we exchanged views in an extensive and in-depth manner on major international and regional issues of mutual interest, and we also briefed each other on our military development. 

                Through the discussions, we agreed on -- we reached a six-point consensus.  I will not go through them one by one, as I think you already have them in your hand. 

                As I see it, cooperation is the mainstream in the relationship between our two countries and two militaries.  We share a broad consensus on major -- some major issues.  Certainly we also disagree on some other issues. 

                Through my visit, one phrase that I have emphasized several times was "mutual respect."  We are ready to work with the American side to implement the important consensus reached between our presidents regarding the development of the mil-to-mil and state-to-state relations, show respect to each other's core interests and major concerns, properly handle our differences and problems, enhance dialogue and communication, deepen practical cooperation so as to push forward the healthy and stable development of our mil-to-mil ties. 

                Thank you. 

                CAPT. KIRBY:  We will now take just a few questions -- again, just a couple from each side.   

                WANG BAODONG:  (spokesman, Chinese embassy):  (Off mic.) 

                Q:  (Through interpreter.)  With Xinhua News Agency.  I have two questions.  The first one is addressed to Admiral Mullen and the second one to General Chen.   

                Admiral Mullen, recent years have witnessed the improvement in the mil-to-mil relations between China and the United States.  However, three major obstacles remain in that relationship, namely the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the close-in reconnaissance activities along Chinese coasts by U.S. military aircraft and vessels, and the third one is the legal areas, namely the restrictions imposed on the mil-to-mil exchanges by some U.S. domestic legislation. 

                My question is, what is the United States’ side’s plan to respond to China's concerns regarding these areas?  And what steps will you take to guarantee the sound development of this mil-to-mil relationship? 

                General Chen, we have seen in the United States, particularly in some U.S. media, some exaggeration about China's military capabilities.  In some cases China is referred to as a potential challenger to the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.  What is your view? 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, I appreciate the question.  And again, the visit itself is very, very critical.  And I want to once more thank General Chen for coming to visit at this -- at a very critical time, not just in our relationship but in history.  And we've had very frank discussions about the things we agree on and that we disagree on, including the three issues that you raised.  And we have realistic expectations about our ability to solve those issues this week.   

                Since I think that the -- and what we both did -- and I'll speak for myself -- is work very hard to listen, to try to understand the view from each other.  And without starting there, I think any steps we take would be false steps.   

                I understand exactly where General Chen is on these issues.  And we have discussed possible ways to move forward, again, without an expectation that it would be resolved either -- any of those issues would be resolved overnight, and at the same time knowing as well that we also have many positive areas, mutual interests, that we have talked about that we can continue to work together on.  I talked about piracy, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, personnel exchanges, many of the things that are listed in the release that you have.   

                And I'm very committed to keeping focus on both sets of issues, seeing if it's possible to align over time.  And that's very much a part of the frequent dialogue, the frequent exchanges, the frequent conversations that we will have in the future addressing the vast array of issues and challenges that face us both individually, in the region and around the world. 

                Thank you. 

                GEN. CHEN:  Thank you for your question.  It's a good one.  In your question you used the word "exaggeration."  The meaning of "exaggeration" as implied by -- is that it's simply not true.  So I can either answer the question which is a hypothetical one or not answer it. 

                Let me tell you very frankly that our efforts to enhance China's national defense and military capabilities after decades of reform and opening up, and after rapid growth in our economic power, is compensatory in nature.  China's efforts to enhance our military capabilities is mainly targeted at separatist forces as headed by Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, who have attempted to split Taiwan away from China. 

                Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and people on Taiwan are our compatriots and blood brothers and sisters.  We would use peaceful means to resolve the Taiwan question and achieve reunification. 

                During my office call on Secretary Clinton this morning, she told me -- she reiterated the U.S. policy; that is, there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is part of China. 

                I asked a question.  I said:  “I've heard that comment, that statement, since I was a schoolboy, and I'm hearing the same thing now I'm approaching my retirement age.  I wonder when can I really see the reunification of my motherland.” 

                One American friend suggested that China remove or withdraw the missiles deployed across Taiwan along our southeast coast. 

                I can tell you here responsibly that we only have garrison deployment across Taiwan, and we do not have operational deployment, much less missiles, in -- stationed there. 

                To be sure, we did make necessary military preparations to prevent a separatist forces headed by Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, who attempt to split Taiwan from Chinese territory. 

                Through my visit over the past couple of days in the United States, I am surprised by the sophistication of the U.S. military, including its weapons and equipment and doctrines and so on.  I can tell you that China does not have the capability to challenge the United States.  As a matter of fact, the close-in reconnaissance activities along Chinese coasts by U.S. military aircraft and vessels are seen in China as a deterrent.  What I'm trying to say, that we do not have the capability to challenge the United States.  On the issue of reconnaissance along Chinese coasts, Admiral Mullen has had a very candid exchange of views, and we agreed on many things. 

                You -- Mr. Wang, you set a very good precedent, a good example for the following questions.  I suggest the other journalists also address their questions to both of us.  Thank you. 

                Q:  General Chen, I'm Bob Burns from the Associated Press. 

                In your remarks this afternoon at National Defense University, you said that -- you said that U.S.-China military-to-military relations go bad whenever the United States does not respect China's core interests, including Taiwan.  There is talk in Congress of proceeding with the sale of F-16s to Taiwan soon.  I wonder if you'd tell us what would happen with U.S.-China relations if that happened. 

                And this subject's for Admiral Mullen.  Do you believe that the credibility of Taiwan's defenses and deterrence depend upon them acquiring F-16s, or can Taiwan be secure without them? 

                GEN. CHEN:  Taiwan is part of Chinese territory.  That is known to all.  Since it is part of China, why does -- why will it need the United States weapons sales to guarantee its security? 

                So the Taiwan Relations Act is legislation that interferes with China's domestic affairs.  To use -- to apply a domestic law, an issue which is another country's internal affairs, how should I describe this?  I think maybe I can use the word "hegemonic."   

                Decades have passed and the cross-strait situation has gone through fundamental changes.  Any effort to try to contain China's development using Taiwan would be futile. 

                Since I arrived in the United States, I've had the opportunity to talk to some members of the Congress, and some of them told me that they also think it is time for the United States to review this legislation. 

                Your question is quite to the point, that is, whether continuous or future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will impact the state-to-state and mil-to-mil relations between China and the United States.  My answer is affirmative; it will. 

                As to how bad the impact will be, it would depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan.  Thank you. 

                ADM. MULLEN:  As I've indicated, Bob, we've had very open and frank discussions about this.  And as General Chen said, Secretary Clinton repeated, and I would only re-emphasize, the United States policy that supports a one-China policy.  And I certainly share the view of the peaceful reunification of China.**

                It's very difficult to say what the steps will be to ensure that that happens.  I -- in our conversations, part of the emphasis in our conversations is to try to move forward so these challenges don't exist for our kids and our grandkids.  And I appreciate what General Chen said in terms of future arms sales certainly impacting our relationship, but it really depends on what they are and how much they would impact on that. 

                With respect -- with respect to the F-16s, the honest truth is, is I have not -- I have not drilled down into that to make an evaluation about my own judgment with respect to the impact in terms of them defending themselves or -- and just how many or how much of an upgrade they might need. 

                I would also -- or finally say that in the United States, as in China, we follow the law.  We have a law, which is the Taiwan Relations Act, and we will continue to follow that until such time as that may change.  That's the responsibility of Congress to certainly initiate that, and while there may be discussions, that's not something I'm aware is up in terms of a priority at this point in time.  As long as that law remains in effect, certainly we will follow it. 

                Q:  (Phoenix TV through interpreter)  To General Chen, given that the global and regional situation is complex and volatile, with flashing points cropping up from time to time, how would you expect China to engage in cooperation in the military field with the United States?  And what measures will the Chinese military take in this regard? 

                To Admiral Mullen, we noted that in the first item of the joint statement, the consensus reached between the two presidents was mentioned.  So I would like to know the United States side's consideration in implementing this consensus of building a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.  Thank you. 

                GEN. CHEN:  With regard to the first question, indeed hot spot issues crop up from time to time around the globe.  However, the same analytical method cannot be applied to all of them. 

                The PLA has been and is still engaged in cooperation with the U.S. military in such areas as H/A -- humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism and counterpiracy in the Gulf of Aden.   

                The recent killing of bin Laden in Pakistan by the U.S. military is a milestone in international counterterrorism campaign.  That has dealt a strong blow to the al-Qaida.  We have to be keenly aware that the killing of bin Laden cannot prevent the emergence of other figureheads of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. 

                Counterterrorism will be a long and arduous task.   

                Terrorism is a common enemy for the whole world.  In our counterterrorism efforts, we should pay particular attention to the application of the same standard.  We should try to avoid get into such a situation where we fight against only those terrorists who pose a direct threat to our own country; otherwise, the terrorist groups will be even rampant -- even more rampant.  Admiral Mullen and I discussed and agreed on this -- that is, double standards should not be applied in counterterrorism.   

                We should also carry out more study and analysis into the root cause or breeding soils of terrorism.  It would be good to start from bin Laden and al-Qaida as a case study.  In order for our counterterrorism efforts to be more effective, we also need to engage in more cooperation, including in the intelligence field.   

                Financial support is also important for counterterrorism.  An integrated or comprehensive approach should be adopted in counterterrorism.   

                The Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army have contributed to U.N.-mandated peacekeeping missions over the years.  We sent a large number of military observers to such missions.  Eight members of the Chinese military gave their lives to the international peacekeeping missions.  Other than our peacekeepers performing U.N.- mandated peacekeeping missions, China does not station a single soldier outside our own country.   

                Counter-piracy is also an arduous task in the Gulf of Aden. Admiral Mullen and me -- I also talked about this during our discussions yesterday.  I think that for our counter-piracy campaigns to be effective, we should probably move beyond the ocean and crush their bases on the land.  It is important that we target not only the operators, those on the small ships or crafts conducting the hijacking activities, but also the figureheads. 

                The ransoms, the captured materials and money flow somewhere else. The pirates, the operators themselves, get only a small part of that. It is particularly important for us to help the local people improve their livelihood, build a good economy and a capable government.  It takes joint efforts.   

                Not long ago, a Hong Kong-registered commercial ship named Fu Chung was hijacked by pirates.  It was the Indian, American and Turkish naval ships who were at that time at the Fu Chung's proximity who went to the rescue.   

                On our part, the PLA naval ships were also involved in the rescuing of ships belonging to other countries.  What I'm trying to emphasize here is the importance of cooperation.  As one of our deliverables noted, Admiral Mullen and I agreed to conduct joint maritime exercises both in the Gulf of Aden and beyond.   

                Let me conclude by saying that the People's Liberation Army will be actively engaged in any activities and operations that serve the interests of the people around the world and that contribute to world peace and stability.  Thank you. 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Without the leadership and direction of President Hu Jintao and President Obama, General Chen and I would not be standing here today, and I think that's a really critical part, obviously, of this relationship.  And their leadership has effects far beyond just the military relationship, not just for this visit and not just for the deliverables, but, I think, beyond that as well.  And as I said, we're committed to working our way not through -- through not just the easy issues but the tough issues.   

                General Chen actually probably doesn't get enough credit, but in China, General Chen led the humanitarian and -- humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in China for the very terrible earthquake sometime ago.   

                And the point is, we can learn from each other.  Part of what still is very much in my thoughts is the assistance that the Chinese rendered the United States during the hurricane of Katrina in 2005.   

                And I still can't figure out how China was able to have the first search-and-rescue team -- 33 hours after the earthquake in Haiti -- on the ground in Haiti from Beijing.  But I thought it was a great accomplishment.  Haiti is not a neighbor, or maybe Haiti's not a close neighbor.  But as great powers, both of us have neighbors around the world. 

                And this is about the two of us being able to grow in a way that makes it better for the peoples of the world.  And I know that's the commitment of President Hu and President Obama, and us as well. 

                CAPT. KIRBY:  This is the last question.  It'll go to Julian Barnes.  He promises to keep it short.  (Laughter.) 

                ADM. MULLEN:  This is one question divided into eight questions? 

                Q:  Six-part.  Six-part, sir.  (Laughter.) 

                Admiral Mullen, General Chen in his speech said the U.S. hypes the threat from China.  Some of the weapons programs the U.S. procures are justified, like shipboard jammers, as countering anti-access technologies.  Does he have a point?  Have we -- has the U.S. overhyped the threat? 

                And, General Chen, if China poses no threat, why take actions like test flying the J-20 stealth fighter while Secretary Gates was visiting Beijing?  Wasn't that a provocative act? 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Maybe I can take the second question, you'll take the first?  (Laughter.) 

                I think part of the discussions -- and General Chen spoke to this -- is the -- his view of how far ahead the United States is technically.  I think the opportunity that is presented by virtue of us meeting and having these discussions is to go -- is to validate our assumptions of each other and make adjustments accordingly. 

                What he and I have both talked about is a future that is a peaceful future and a better one for our children and grandchildren.  That does not include a conflict between China and the United States. And that's very much why this relationship is so important, and that we frequently are in discussions to ensure that we're not misunderstanding or miscalculating. 

                The Asia-Pacific region is a vital national interest to China and a vital national interest to the United States. 

                So we need to both work hard to ensure that our interests are supported and that the outcome of that is -- generates a better outcome in terms of lives which grow in the future, better economies, peace and stability.  Thank you. 

                GEN. CHEN:  Since Admiral Mullen has answered his question, I don't think I need to do -- add anything more.  (Laughter.)  But dutifully I will answer my question. 

                After 30 years of reform and opening up, China's economy has made tremendous progress, and we are now the world's second-largest economy. 

                However, divided by the 1.3 billion Chinese people, the per capita GDP of China ranks only behind the 100th in the world. 

                Our efforts to grow our economy is to ensure that the 1.3 billion people are better off.  We do not want to use the money to buy equipment or advanced weapons system to challenge the United States. 

                The per capita GDP of the United States is 12 times that of China.  So if we spend our money, which is much less than that of the United States, to buy weapons and equipment to challenge the United States, the Chinese people simply would say “no.” 

                As is known to all, the United States is a superpower in the world today, and how can China easily have the ability to challenge it?  That is simply not part of Chinese culture, and we do not have that capability.  We would strive for world peace, stability and development and the well-being of the whole humankind. 

                What you said was true, that Secretary Gates' visit to China in January coincided with the test flight of our J-20 stealth fighter. Secretary Gates also has expressed his belief that it is part of our routine test flight and it is not targeted at his visit whatsoever.   

                The United States has far more advanced weapons and equipment.   

                Why is not the question raised that such R&D equipment and -- equipment and weapons is targeted at someone, some country or some defense leadership, and why the same question is posed to China in our effort to advance to improve our equipment?  I find that very strange for questions to be raised only to China but not to the United States. 

                You may well know the restrictions on importing high technologies to China here in the United States, as well as sanctions of arms sales to China within the European Union.  Despite those restrictions and sanctions, the Chinese people have used their wisdom, and they have come up with their own homemade advanced weapons and equipment, although in terms of modernization level, those are lagging far behind the equipment of the United States and the European Union.  I find that very inspiring and encouraging that we have come up, we have relied on ourselves and come up with our own equipment and weapons. 

                Admiral Mullen and I have had very friendly discussions, and we agreed on many things.  It is my sincere hope that the U.S. media will also put China and the People's Liberation Army in a more positive light, to honor their reputation as objective press and media to the interest of both the Chinese people and people around the world. 

                I think that's all for today.  (Laughter.) 

                CAPT. KIRBY:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you. 

                GEN. CHEN:  Thank you for your good questions.

**[Note attributable to Capt. John Kirby:  The chairman fully supports the United States’ One-China policy which is based on the three U.S.-China Joint Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act. This policy has been consistent across eight administrations. The United States supports a peaceful resolution acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.  It is this peaceful resolution to which the chairman was referring.]