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Background Briefing on the Visit of China's Minister of National Defense from the Pentagon

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
May 07, 2012

             STAFF:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I know we're just a couple minutes late, so I won't delay with this. 

            We have with us today (briefer name and title deleted).  (Briefer schedule deleted.)  I've asked him today to provide a little bit of perspective on today's visit from the Chinese minister of defense.   And he will be, for reporting purposes, a senior defense official. 

            Just a couple of housekeeping notes:  We got about 30 minutes.  So again, I'd ask you to please limit your follow-up questions so that everybody can get a chance.  Please identify yourself and who you're with before you ask the question.  I'll call on you.  And I think that's it.  I thought I had -- (off-mic exchange) -- oh, yeah, thanks.  Yeah, this is -- (chuckles) -- the most important thing.  These discussions -- embargoed until 1500, till the arrival of the -- of General Liang.  So 1500 embargo is when it's lifted. 

            We good?  Yeah?  OK, sir. 

            SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Actually, one initial point of clarification before we begin.  My title is actually (briefer title deleted).  (Laughter, cross talk). 

            STAFF:  But since you're only going to be referred to as a senior defense official, it doesn't matter.

            (Cross talk.) 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Right. 

            STAFF:  I mean, it matters, but not -- (inaudible).  (Laughter.)  No offense -- (inaudible). 

            Q:  Yeah, it's just like this building to grab more territory.  (Laughter.) 

            STAFF:  OK, sir.  I'm going to give it over to you for a few minutes if you'd like to take that up. 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much.  And thank you all for being here.  As indicated, I'm going to be talking today about the visit of China's minister of defense, General Liang Guanglie, who's visiting the United States as a guest of Secretary Panetta. 

            This is the first visit by a Chinese minister of defense to the United States in nine years.  Secretary Panetta looks forward to receiving General Liang this afternoon, where he'll have an extended meeting with him, as well as hosting him for dinner this evening. 

            This visit is occurring at an important time for our two militaries as we're seeking to expand cooperation, improve mutual understanding, build greater mutual trust and reduce our differences.

            We seek to develop a military-to-military relationship that's healthy, stable, reliable and continuous.  And senior levels -- senior-level visits such as the one we're having today as well as upcoming visits to both countries as part of our mutually agreed-to military-to-military exchange program are important parts of achieving the vision that our two presidents have of building a positive, cooperative and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship. 

            We're working to expand areas of cooperation such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and counterpiracy, really looking to find ways where we can expand those areas where our interests converge and build our ability to work together to deliver international public goods.  

            At the same time, we do continue to discuss differences that we might have, questions that we have about each other's defense modernization programs, areas like space and cyber, nuclear and missile defense.  These are all important issues to talk about in the military-to-military relationship.  They're critical because they can help to reduce the chances for miscalculation or misperceptions. 

            As part of General Liang's visit, he'll be going to a number of U.S. defense installations, which is customary for secretary of defense-hosted counterpart visits.  The visits were chosen to highlight areas of existing or potential cooperation, such as a visit yesterday to the San Diego Naval Base, where the delegation discussed counterpiracy operations with the commander of a U.S. naval ship that recently returned from the Gulf of Aden. 

            In addition, the sites were selected to highlight the contributions of the United States military to global peace and stability and to demonstrate what the United States means when we discuss transparency.  And I can talk a little bit later about some of the additional places that the general will be visiting on this trip.

            Again, this is a very important visit.  It's the highest level military-to-military exchange that we've had to date this year, and I look forward to taking any questions that you have. 

            STAFF:  Just one minor clarification, I think that the San Diego was Saturday, isn't that right?  

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Saturday -- 

            STAFF:  I think you said yesterday.   

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah. 

            STAFF:  It was actually on Saturday.  

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So, OK, yep, on Saturday.  

            Q:  So you're even -- corrected each other once? 

            STAFF:  That's right.  We are even now. 

            (Inaudible.) 

            Q:  No.

            STAFF:  Go ahead. 

            Q:  Hi, is this more symbolic since -- well, (briefer's colleague name deleted), before he stepped down, he said, the only time he went to China was for the S&ED (Strategic and Economic Dialogue) at the invitation of Secretary Clinton.  And he said that there was no other level contacts other than the high-level strategic talks.  So I don't know whether you can explore on that?  And also, when can we get a China military power report out this year? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I would -- first, I would say that this -- the visit that the secretary's having with General Liang is important and that there will be -- it is part of a substantive set of exchanges where we're trying to maintain --

(inaudible)-- 

            STAFF:  -- South Carolina? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Right -- (laughter) -- where -- this visit is part of -- is part of our military-to-military exchange program where we cover a whole range of very substantive topics.  Obviously there's an important symbolic aspect to the visit itself.  But make no mistake:  When we have these types of discussions, when we have these dialogues, we're talking about, you know, critical issues in our relationship, where we can -- where we can cooperate, but also to be able to talk about questions or to be able to manage any differences that we might have.  This is -- this is, you know, the very essence of what we're trying to achieve with our military-to-military relationship. 

            Q:  Would the South China Sea and Taiwan be -- come up? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, the meeting actually hasn't happened yet.  So I think I'd probably defer to the outbrief of that meeting.  But these are all important issues, and these are issues that routinely come up in these types of exchanges. 

            STAFF:  Again, please identify yourself -- (inaudible). 

            Thom. 

            Q:  Thom Shanker with the Times.  I'll ask my question and the follow-up together, at the same time.  Are there going to be deliverables expected out of the meeting today?  A small question.  

            And the bigger one:  This building and the government's made a big deal about the pivot to Asia.  The Chinese view that as hostile and containment.  How do you answer that criticism? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I'll answer the first question.  There's no specific deliverable that we have set up for this -- for this visit.  While there's no specific deliverable, I think the -- there are outcomes that will come out of it, and that's maintaining a sustained senior-level dialogue between our two militaries, maintaining open channels of communication, which is an important part of what we're trying to do with the military-to-military relationship.  It offers opportunities to build mutual understanding, improve and build towards greater mutual trust.  So that in and of itself, I think, is an important product and outcome of this meeting. 

            I mean, in terms of the rebalance towards Asia, I mean, this is something that we've talked about with our -- with our Chinese counterparts in the past.  And what we've tried to do is use the opportunity -- every opportunity that we have to engage the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], to be able to, you know, help them to improve the understanding of what we're doing -- what we're doing in Asia, not only from a defense perspective but across the U.S. government. 

            And I think the very fact that we're having the talks are intended to assuage concerns by being very open and transparent about what we're doing in the region. 

            STAFF:  Yeah, Bob? 

            Q:  Bob Burns of AP.  Do you expect Secretary Panetta to raise in any way the question of China eventually joining into international nuclear arms reduction talks at some point?  And also, is the secretary planning to go to -- has that been worked out for the secretary to go to Beijing? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  The secretary very much looks forward to visiting Beijing.  We're still working details with our -- with our Chinese counterparts on when that could happen.  And I'd prefer not to speculate on the specific things that might come up in the meeting today on nuclear. 

            Q:  I thought we were here to hear about what the U.S. side was planning to raise or not raise or what to expect from the meeting. 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, they're going to talk about a whole -- a whole range of issues, but talking specifically the issue of entering into arms control, I don't believe that's on the agenda for today. 

            STAFF:  John. 

            Q:  (Inaudible)  Have any Chinese officials raised concerns or had any discussions with your side about the administration's agreement to accept Senator Cornyn's request to look into further arms sales to Taiwan? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Taiwan is something that -- I mean, Taiwan arms sales is a topic that frequently comes up in our exchanges with the Chinese.  And our position on that has been very clear.  Our policy is guided by the three joint U.S.-China communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, and under the Taiwan Relations Act, we'll make available to Taiwan defense articles and services that are necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense; and that the Senator Cornyn letter -- or, actually, it was a letter from the White House to Senator Cornyn, is fully consistent with that policy. 

            Q:  But have Chinese officials specifically addressed that issue of talks yet? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Not that I'm aware of. 

            STAFF:  Julian. 

            Q:  Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal.  Does the Chen asylum case and events surrounding that -- do you anticipate that -- what effect will that have on these talks?  Obviously, it was not anticipated when this visit was planned.  Is it going to be discussed?  Do you plan to discuss it openly?  Would -- is it straining the talks in any way that you see, or is this a normal -- that's settled, doesn't matter? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I'd have to refer you to the State Department on -- 

            Q:  No, but the effect on your talks, not their talks? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We're not planning on raising it. 

            Q:  Gopal Ratnam with Bloomberg News.  Of the January 2012 defense strategy, one of the key elements of that was the Anti-Access/Area Denial by some of the adversaries.  And the last time Secretary of Defense Gates was in Beijing, China did a test flight of a J-20, the stealth aircraft program.  And also, there've been -- reported that they're developing this anti-ship missile.  To what extent are some of those military capabilities a concern to the United States, and are they likely to come up in this meeting? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I -- you know, part of -- one of the real values that we get out of these exchanges is we have the opportunity to, you know, improve greater understanding in terms of what China's military modernization program is.  I don't know if specific weapon systems or capabilities will come up, but certainly we have some questions about the direction that China's military is taking.  And that's a pretty standard part of -- part of our dialogue is to help to get greater openness and a better understanding of where they're going with their military modernization. 

            Q:  William Wan -- from the Washington Post.  I was wondering, can you talk about the trajectory of the communication, where you hope it ends up?  You know, there that was that period of radio silence between the military, and it seems like you're building towards something.  What would the end goal be?  Would it be, like, annual kind of bilateral talks?  Or what's -- like, where is it headed? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I -- yeah, I think -- I don't know if there is necessarily an end goal in sight.  I mean, it's -- and I appreciate the question.  I mean, what we're trying to do is build a military-to-military relationship that is -- that is healthy, stable, reliable and continuous.  And so that means that we're trying to establish a foundation for the military-to-military relationship that is solid enough and strong enough to be able to weather the types of turbulence and friction that's natural and a relationship that's as broad, diverse and complex as the relationship that we have with China. 

            Yeah, as you know, in the past there have been ups and downs in the military-to-military relationship.  And we're looking to break the on-again-off-again cycle of our military-to-military exchanges and institutionalize some of these types of interactions. 

            You know, we're looking, obviously, to be able to maintain senior-level communication so that if there are questions that we have or that China has about something that we're doing, that we have the ability to have open communication between both sides to help to address any misperceptions that may occur in the relationship.  So I think maintaining that type of healthy, stable, reliable and continuous dialogue is our objective. 

            Q:  Were you going to detail some of the different stops?  You had mentioned the -- (inaudible). 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yes.  In addition to the San Diego Naval Base, which is on Saturday, he's meeting at the Pentagon today, this afternoon.  After he leaves Washington, D.C., he's scheduled to travel to USSOUTHCOM to meet with General Fraser.  

            Then he's going to be traveling to -- on Wednesday, traveling to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for some meetings and interactions with II MEF, or the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.  He'll also travel to Fort Benning, Georgia.  

            And then on Thursday he will visit Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and he will also visit West Point, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Thursday as well, and then he departs -- departs the country on Thursday. 

            Q:  And are there goals toward -- you talked about San Diego has a specific goal -- just highlighting other -- just like a top three or any kind of -- 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Like, for example, the meeting with SOUTHCOM is going to be an opportunity to highlight opportunities for practical cooperation in things like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and expand the conversations that we have with the PLA on nontraditional security cooperation efforts, such as counternarcotics, which is something that is an important part of USSOUTHCOM's mission area. 

            The visit to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force will be an opportunity to meet and interact with some of the senior noncommissioned officers that are part of our Marine Corps.  And one of the main objectives there is to provide an opportunity to meet and interact with some of those -- you know, our NCOs in the Marine Corps. 

            The visit to Fort Benning, Georgia, is to be able to observe some very basic level training, and it demonstrates openness and transparency on the U.S. side. 

            The Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- again, he'll have an opportunity to view some flight training activities with F-15E aircraft.  And again, this just demonstrates the openness and transparency from the U.S. military. 

            The visit to West Point is fully consistent with our efforts to enhance military academic and professional military education exchanges between our two sides.  And West Point is just a fantastic institution for that. 

            Q:  Is he going to speak there, by any chance? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I don't believe he's scheduled to speak at West Point. 

            STAFF:  No, there's no speaking -- (inaudible). 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  He is ongoing to have lunch with cadets, though, in the mess hall. 

            STAFF:  Ma'am, you've had your hand up there.  You're -- 

            Q:  Thank you.  Wei Jing from the Global Times of China.   Two questions.  What is the Pentagon's position on the Filipinos' claims or dispute on the Chinese island of Scarborough Island, the Huangyan Island?  And secondly, can -- are you confident that the Pentagon can maintain a good relationship -- military relationship with the Filipino military at the same time with the Chinese military? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  In terms of your first question, you know, our policy on that has been -- has been very clear.  We -- the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce everywhere in the world, including in the South China Sea.  

            We don't take a position on competing territorial claims over land features in the South China Sea, and we support a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants to resolve their disputes without coercion.  That position has been -- has been consistent, and that hasn't -- that hasn't changed.

            And I also -- to address your second question, I don't see any challenge or conflict in maintaining good and positive relations with our Philippine treaty allies and the PRC. 

            STAFF:  Just to remind, we had a very productive two-plus-two meeting last week with the -- with the foreign minister and the defense minister from the Philippines. 

            Chris. 

            Q:  Does the secretary plan to bring up or gauge the current state of China's relationship with North Korea, in terms of does the secretary expect to come away with a better understanding of exactly how much influence China currently has in North Korea? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Certainly that's going to be an important -- and important topic.  And I think that, you know, one of the aspects of this -- of this visit will be a discussion of regional security issues.  And so I'm sure North Korea will come up in that context. 

            The specific nature of that -- of that conversation -- I mean, I think that, you know, we'll highlight our concerns over North Korean behavior, in particular the recent missile launch, and encourage China, as we do other countries, to encourage North Korea to adhere to its international obligations. 

            STAFF:  Chris. 

            Q:  Two ideas that have been mentioned before -- establishing a defense hotline to Beijing and possibly doing a -- like, an INCSEA [Incidents at Sea] agreement with China.  Either of those still on the table? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, actually, we do have a defense telephone link, which is a defense hotline.  And that's been in place since, I think, 2007.  And so that's already -- that's already been in place. 

            Q:  But the issue is whether they pick up the phone when it rings, right?  (Inaudible) -- have, that's been -- I mean, you reference yourself improving communications between senior leaders.  

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, we have used the defense telephone link a number of times.  And when we've -- when we've called, they've -- they have answered it.  So I mean, that defense telephone link is in place. 

            Q:  Right. 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  But I mean, quite frankly, it's always going to be an open question given any -- on any given issue whether or not they'll answer the phone.  To date, though, they have answered it. 

            Q:  And on the -- 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  On the -- on the INCSEA, right now what we have is an agreement that was signed in 1998, it's called the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement.  And that agreement is focused on improving our capabilities to work together to focus on operational and tactical safety in the -- in the maritime domain and the airspace above it.  At this time, I think the MMCA agreement, Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, provides for the same types of things that the INCSEA agreement provided for in the Cold War with -- between the United States and the Soviet Union.  And that's the agreement that we have.

            Q:  There was no plenary meeting on that last year, right?  No main meeting? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We did have a meeting last year on it.  I think it was a -- it was a working group.  And we're looking to schedule a plenary meeting this year, probably sometime this summer. 

            STAFF:  Lalit. 

            Q:  Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India.  How do you balance your -- (inaudible) -- relationship with India and China in Asian context?  And could Afghanistan be coming up in the talks here, the drawdown of troops or the security position in Afghanistan? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I'm pretty sure in the context of a discussion of regional security issues, the question of Afghanistan will come up.  

            And in terms of our -- in terms of our relationship with China and India, I mean, same with the earlier question about the Philippines -- we can and do maintain positive relations with India and China at the same time.  We're working to build a strategic partnership with India, as we talk about in the Defense Strategic Guidance, and that is in no way in conflict with the type of military-to-military relationship that we're seeking to develop with China or the -- or, you know, the larger cooperative partnership that we're seeking to develop with China based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.  There's no conflict there.  We can pursue both.   

            Q:  Rob Gentry with TV Asahi.  I wanted to follow on one of the points you mentioned about the meeting in Camp Lejeune will involve senior NCOs.  Who are they meeting with?  And in the past, there's been an emphasis from your side on trying to develop some sort of program of midlevel to junior-level officer exchanges.  Is that a topic you're going to bring up again and are you expecting any progress on that?  

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I don't have specific details on who specifically they're going to meet outside of noncommissioned officers from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune.  

            Q:  But -- (inaudible) -- the Chinese side. 

            (Cross talk.) 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  (Inaudible) -- what he's saying? 

            Q:  Yeah. 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I mean, the Chinese -- the Chinese -- the Chinese delegation has got a good number of folks from across the different services on China.  

            Just to give you a list of some of the -- some of the top individuals that are part of this group:  General Liang Guanglie, who, as you know, is the minister of defense; General Zhang Youxia, who is the commander of the Shenyang Military Region, is part of this delegation; Vice Admiral Su Shiliang, he's the deputy commander of the PLA Navy; Lieutenant General Yang Guohai, he's the chief of staff of the PLA Air Force; Major General Gao Jin, he's the chief of staff of the PLA 2nd Artillery Corps.  

            So again, we have, you know, senior officers from all the different services in China are part of this delegation.  And it totals 24 different people, so it's a pretty good-size -- pretty good-size group. 

            Q:  Are there going to be any Chinese NCOs?  

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  There are no Chinese NCOs on this delegation.  And -- yeah, there are no Chinese NCOs on this delegation. 

            And then as part of your second question on the midgrade and junior-officer exchange program, we have had a number of rounds of that exchange in the past, and we obviously would be looking to continue that in the future, but we don't have the next iteration of that midgrade and junior-officer exchange planned right now. 

            STAFF:  We'll get you a list of the delegation, if that's what you guys are asking for.

            Yeah, Luis. 

            Q:  Way in the back here.  Luis Martinez with ABC.  Did they have a wish list of facilities that they intended to visit and that you may have decided not to let them go to?  I only bring it up because I think in the past, American secretaries have visited the 2nd Artillery Corps and I think you've said that that was something that you desired to visit and that they relented.  What did they want to see here that you may not have wanted them to see? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I guess the only thing I could say is the Chinese have expressed satisfaction with the itinerary that we developed in concert with them. 

            So I mean, it's something that we've worked out with them over the course of the past several weeks.  So there's some things that they wanted, some things that they are in there.  Other things that they wanted may not have been available at the time.  But we worked very hard to put together a program that would meet both of our objectives, the Chinese objectives and U.S. objectives.  And the Chinese have expressed satisfaction with all the arrangements that we've made. 

            Q:  And what were some of the ones that they wanted? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I don't have the specific details on the ones that they wanted.  I know that they do want and they are -- they're very pleased with the ones that they've got. 

            STAFF:  Lita.

            Q:  On -- you mentioned cybersecurity.  Can you give us just a little better idea of what type -- the tenor of the discussion about cybersecurity?  I mean, obviously, the U.S. intelligence community has come out fairly strongly about China cyberattacks, particularly data exfiltration.  Is that going to be part of the conversation, or is it more along the lines of international cooperation on cybersecurity issues? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I mean, I think the -- you know, I mean, cyber issues is an important area for dialogue and discussion with the Chinese government and the Chinese military in particular.  I mean, we obviously have some concerns about some behavior, cyber behavior that appears to originate in China.  This is something that we've talked about in the past.  We've mentioned it in our annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving the People's Republic of China.  I mean, there's -- I guess there's two aspects to that.  And you know, one is the question of norms, and another is the question of intrusions.  And you know, these are all important issues that we need to be able to talk about with the Chinese. 

            Q:  But will they come up?  Will these four come up?  Will they come up?

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I think, yeah, cyber as a general topic will likely come up, yeah. 

            STAFF:  Again, so we started late, so we're going to go just a couple more minutes.  (Inaudible.) 

            Q:  Jim Miklaszewski, NBC.  What specific questions does the U.S. have about China's military modernization?  And what sort of answers have you received in the past when you ask about that? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I think, you know, we would like to have a better understanding of the purposes, you know, objectives and desired end states of China's military modernization.  We'd like to be able to understand a little bit more about why the Chinese are investing in this very robust and rapid military modernization program, given the security environment that we see in the Asia-Pacific today, which is a region that's at peace.  And so we'd like to understand what is motivating China to invest so much of their resources at such a rapid pace. 

            We have had some success in getting greater openness from the Chinese in years past.  The Chinese now routinely publish defense white papers every other year, and that provides greater insights on what they're doing with their military and where they'd like to take the military in the future. 

            They've done things like establish a Ministry of National Defense press office and information office to better provide -- make more information available about the military.  But we think that there's a lot more that can be said by the Chinese about the direction that its military is taking. 

            STAFF:  OK.  This is going to be the last question. 

            Q:  Thank you. 

            STAFF:  (Inaudible.) 

            Q:  (Inaudible) -- with -- (inaudible).  As you know -- (inaudible) -- North Korea has -- (inaudible) -- underground nuclear test.  (Inaudible) Secretary Panetta raised this issue at this time? 

            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We continue to have significant concern about peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and -- particularly as North Korea continues to engage in provocative actions that risk instability in Northeast Asia.  I had mentioned earlier North Korea's failed missile launch.  That's one example of provocative behavior, and we're watching very carefully for the potential for additional provocation from North Korea.  And as I had mentioned before, I mean, this is -- this is a topic that will likely come up with the secretary, in particular given China's long-standing relationship with North Korea and its status as a country that has perhaps the greatest influence over North Korea.  

            STAFF:  OK, guys, thanks.  I appreciate it.  

            Just a little housekeeping -- (inaudible).  I forgot to mention that we do now have the press briefing scheduled at 1630 here in the -- (inaudible) -- finally worked out all the kinks.  So 1630 on camera with both Secretary Panetta and the minister.