SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon or whatever it is. Let me take just a minute to make a couple of brief comments about the next stop. And then we'll open it up, talk about whatever you want to talk about.
The ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] defense ministers' conference was an important first step of what I'm doing here in the region because it represented the initial effort that we have been working on as we continue to collaborate with and coordinate with and strengthen our relationships in the Asia-Pacific.
As I have said many times, the president has said, Secretary Kerry has said, the ASEAN group of nations, and that organization is an important organization, going to continue to be an important organization because it represents all of the collective interests of the Asia-Pacific.
When you add to the ADMM-Plus [ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus] conference members, which, as you know, includes eight additional defense ministers, which I attended last year, and Secretary Panetta the year before, and I intend to attend again this year, that's a very significant representation of this part of the world.
The rebalance strategy for the United States is very much based on these relationships and all the variances and dimensions of these relationships. So to start with a couple of days with ASEAN members was important.
And we got into some of the issues that I will discuss here on the next trip -- or next visit in Japan and then on to China.
And I might add, on the ASEAN ministers' meeting, I should give credit to Carl Woog, the famous Carl Woog, and Mark Lippert, because they were very instrumental in how and when and why we started this effort a year ago when I first announced the invitation to the ASEAN members in Singapore.
So to Woog and Lippert, thank you. Because what you had initially helped begin was -- turned out to be pretty important.
Japan. The Japanese-U.S. relationship is one of the strongest partnerships, friendships, treaty relationships the United States has. We're committed to that relationship, that partnership.
There are challenges in this part of the world that include their future, Japan's future. I'm going to Japan for a couple of days. And you saw my itinerary and who I'm meeting with.
To not just reconnect and recommit U.S. efforts, but also to build on just recently the meeting that President Obama had with Prime Minister Abe and President Park, as we look at these new opportunities and challenges in this part of the world.
The Japanese-American partnership is a very critical anchor to peace and stability and security in this part of the world. So I look forward to the conversations here in the next couple of days with the senior leaders of Japan.
Then, as you know, from there, I go to China. That, too, is an important relationship, an emerging relationship with the United States. The interests that all of these nations have in this part of the world coincide in many ways.
As I said yesterday, stability and security are the anchors of prosperity. And we, the United States, as a long-time Pacific power, with many longtime relationships in this part of the world, intend to continue to be strong partners, and continue to fulfill the commitments that we have made to our partners.
So that's just kind of a top line review of, again, why I'm here and why I'm taking this time to listen and reconnect. We have a number of follow-on meetings, as you know, obviously with President Obama being out here later this month visiting both Japan and South Korea, as well as the Philippines and Malaysia.
And then, as you know, we've got trilateral meetings in Washington next week at State Department, and then Mark Lippert and DoD will be holding trilateral meetings at the Pentagon the following week.
So why don't I stop there and go to questions.
Q: What assurances can you offer the Japanese about America's commitment to protecting their own territorial integrity?
I understand they've expressed concerns about this in light of what happened in Ukraine with Crimea, and the Budapest Memorandum where we promised that we would protect Ukraine's territorial integrity in return for them giving them nukes, and now say that that's not -- non-binding.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think you start first with the treaty responsibilities, obligations that we have with the Japanese. We've made that very clear. When you look at just the past couple of years how we have strengthened that relationship in military-to-military and security ways, by the end of this year we'll have our second TPY-2 radar site operational.
We very much appreciate the Japanese government and Prime Minister Abe's efforts in getting the landfill permit successfully completed a few months ago in December. We're building on that, going through now the next steps of pre-construction.
We have, as you know, and are committed to moving some of our newest assets and platforms to Okinawa, and particularly the mainland of Japan. So I don't think there is any indication or any evidence that we're doing anything but strengthening our commitment to the security of Japan.
As you know, we are also undergoing with the Japanese government a review of our defense strategic guidelines, as the Japanese government are reviewing their collective self defense obligations and some of the new initiatives that they're looking at to deal with a new kind of a world, a world that is vastly different than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 30 years ago.
So there is no indication or weakness on the part of the United States as to our complete and absolute commitment to the security of Japan. And I think President Obama made that very clear when he was with Prime Minister Abe.
We will make that again clear over the next two weeks, and when President Obama, certainly when he's here in this area and visits Japan at the end of this month.
Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday you talked about your increasing concerns about tensions in the South China Sea. And I'm wondering if you are planning to take a more forceful stand with China on their actions in the South China Sea, particularly with regards to the Philippines and the nine-dash line.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, as we have said, the United States does not take a position on the issues of the specifics of these areas that are in contention.
However, that said, we honor -- will honor all of our treaty commitments to our treaty partners. Second, we've made it very clear that all of these disputes should be settled through international law and in the international domain. And they need to be solved peacefully.
We'll continue to take that position. That is our position. And I think when you look at the interests that China has in this area, as all the nations in this area have, those nations that are in disagreement over some of these issues, it's clearly in their interest to have these issues resolved peacefully.
Because, if nothing else, we're talking about the very stability and security of a region that allows a nation to be successful and prosper, and that's open, free sea lanes and open space and sky, cyber.
And so it's clearly in everyone's interest to peacefully resolve these. And we will continue to facilitate that in every way we can.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) there's nothing you're seeing.
Sorry. I was just curious, what led you to express your increasing concern yesterday? Is there something you were seeing now that's causing increased alarm?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I don't know if there's anything now that has increased my alarm. You always have concerns when these issues continue to play out and drag out. And you always have concerns when there is any indication of intimidation or coercion or bullying.
And until we get on to some high ground of diplomatic resolution, sure, there's concern. And that concern continues to heighten the tensions that are always dangerous, tensions are always dangerous.
Because tensions can lead to escalation, and escalation can lead to conflict. So we will stay very actively engaged in trying to help these nations resolve these disputes.
Q: Mr. Secretary, getting back to Helene's first question, what message do you think China should take from the Western response to Russia's actions in Crimea as it looks to its territorial disputes with neighbors, including Japan?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think, first, let's review a little bit of what has happened in the last couple of weeks. Japan was one of the G-7 members that strongly endorsed a very forceful position on Russia's actions, economic sanctions at the EU, the United States has imposed against the Russians.
Also when you look at the activities at the United Nations and the resolutions that were agreed to, Japan has been very clear on how it has voted, and its position.
I think any time you have a nation, Russia in this case, try to impose its will to refine and define international boundaries, and violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a nation by force, all of the world takes note of that.
All of the world should take note of that. And the world will respond to that. And the world will reassess and they will -- in their own self-interest they'll reassess.
And so I think, again, it just happens that the timing was such that I'm here not because when we first planned this that we had any early warnings that things would be different in Europe than they were six months ago, or a year ago, basically, when we started talking about this.
But, yes, nations do need to stay alert to these kinds of actions, and respond to these kinds of actions. And allies are going to look at each other to be assured, and want to be reassured that the commitments that are made to each other.
Another reason I'm here to reassure our allies of our commitments to their security. So it's a pretty predictable, I think, reaction not just of nations of this area, in this region, but all over the world. It has to concern nations.
STAFF: Just got one more.
Q: If I could just follow up on that just a little bit. U.S. and international actions in -- against Russia have not proven to effect any change at this point. What is it that the U.S. should be doing more to show that it does indeed intend to do more to effect change?
And isn't that why some of the Pacific nations are concerned, because they think that perhaps if something happened in their region, nothing would actually effect change?
SEC. HAGEL: Let me start with what President Obama has said, and I think the leaders of NATO and the EU have said the same thing. There is not a military solution to this -- this issue in Ukraine.
The president, the United States, our NATO partners, our EU partners, continue to pursue diplomatic and economic actions to deal with this.
These actions, these responses need to always be thought through, not just in short term consequences, but longer term consequences. And as we have imposed with the European Union, the United States, economic sanctions on Russia, as we continue to look at new measures that NATO could possibly employ.
And that's under consideration, as you know, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO General Breedlove will be reporting back by the middle of April on those new options.
There are a number of things being taken right now. And I think, too, Russia has essentially isolated itself in the world. And there will be consequences for that. And I think the evidence is pretty clear, just take a look at some of these UN votes where most of the world is.
I mean, when I say "most of the world," a vast majority of the world on these issues. So it's a combination of short-term/long-term, and nations will always look at their own security interests, how to protect those interests with allies, and needing the reassurance of allies and treaty partners to assure that their security is going to be protected.
So I think, again, when you look at what's going on in Europe, and the actions of Russia, the responses have been responsible. I have -- I think they have been significant.
We have made it very clear, President Obama, that there can be more responses and consequences. And that's what we are planning to do as we look at all options for this kind of violation that we have seen occur.
STAFF: This will be the last one.
Q: Switching back. When you go to Japan, will you discuss Japan's relationship with South Korea? And are you concerned that Tokyo may be mismanaging that relationship? And is this the wrong time, for example, for Japan to be revising its defense policy?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, the relationship between Japan and South Korea is a very important relationship for both countries. They have far, far more common interests than differences. Both nations understand that.
And I think that was clearly articulated when President Obama met with President Park and Prime Minister Abe.
That trilateral relationship between the United States, and Japan, South Korea, in particular, is key to security, stability in this region, and for all three of our countries. We'll continue to strengthen that.
Differences, historical differences between Japan and South Korea will need to be worked through. Both nations are powerful nations. Both nations have strong interests, as I said, that work together.
And we are involved in that trilateral relationship. We will continue to be. As I just noted, we have two meetings coming up in Washington, one next week at State Department, one at the Defense Department on this.
So I recognize, I think we all recognize that when nations have differences, some of these differences are deep, and some are historic. But it's responsible -- it's the responsibility of leaders to work through these, because it's clearly in the interest of both of their countries.
And I have confidence that they will work through these differences and that this trilateral relationship with our three countries will continue to be important and strong.
STAFF: Thanks, everybody. Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.