REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Okay, folks. We don't have a whole lot of time. The secretary's going to open up with just a couple of comments and then we'll get -- we'll get to a few questions.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thanks. John, thank you, good morning, good afternoon -- whatever it is.
I know [Senior Defense Official] just gave you a little readout on the next two days. Let me make just a couple of general comments about the meetings and then we'll take some questions.
First, I start this trip as the beginning of my fifth visit to the Asia-Pacific since I've been secretary of defense.
As you all know, I was just here a couple of months ago. And then the president was about a week behind me in this area and visited a number of these countries. Secretary Kerry was here in this area a few months ago.
So, we continue to build on the relationships that are part of showing our commitment and the visits are part of showing our commitment to this Asia-Pacific rebalance.
[Senior Defense Official] may have covered the agenda a little bit with you. I'm going to have 10 bilateral meetings. I'll have two trilateral meetings. The one that is particularly important will be another trilateral meeting with Japan and the Republic of Korea.
I'll talk in my speech tomorrow about some specific challenges, Thailand being one. The China-U.S. relationship -- what's going on in the South and East China Sea.
So, I will address in my remarks these -- these challenges, as well as continuing to focus on the building of these mutual defense capability relationships as we deepen and strengthen our partners' capabilities in this area.
Let me stop there and then take questions.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Lita?
Q: Mr. Secretary, just on China, can you talk about what your message might be? You're going to have a meeting with one of the Chinese leaders. What is your message going to be to China?
And can you just talk a little bit about how relationships between the Chinese and a number of the other Asian nations have been deteriorating a bit, and what you think that provoked?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I am looking forward to each of these bilaterals because in the bilateral meetings, you can go deeper and wider into the specifics of the differences. And I'm looking forward to the meeting I'm -- I will have with my Chinese counterpart.
But as to what I'm going to talk about, as I did when I -- I was in China when many of you were with me, to address the specifics of the differences that we have. And the only way to deal with those differences is to be direct and -- and upfront.
The military-to-military relationship that the U.S. and China have developed and we continue to develop, as you all know, the senior Chinese military leader was in Washington a couple of weeks ago where General Dempsey hosted him.
It's clearly in both China and the U.S. interest to continue to build that relationship, if for no other reason than assure both sides as best we can and the nations of Asia-Pacific that we have some sense of each other's intentions; we have some ability to communicate when tensions rise; we have mechanisms -- bridges to deal with those before they -- they get beyond our ability to deal with them.
So, we'll continue to focus on that. But also, when we talk about Asia-Pacific and what the Shangri-La Dialogue is all about, this is an area of the world that is growing; it's prospering. It's an area that's presenting more and more opportunities for more and more people, but also more and more challenges.
You heard me talk many times about the critical importance of open, free sea lanes and airways for commerce and for interest. You know, we certainly have -- the United States of America -- huge interests; commercial, economic relationship interests in this area, as we have had for many, many years.
The nations of this region, Asia-Pacific, rely on those freedoms -- individual rights. So, we'll talk about that. We'll talk about tensions and what's going on in some specific terms.
But at the same time, we still have to develop relationships of cooperation and we do have areas that we cooperate, as well as directly confronting not just areas of competition, but where we think China is overplaying its hand and is presenting new challenges and new tensions to this area. So, we'll talk about all those things.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Kevin?
Q: Sir, as we head to Asia and beyond on this round-the-world trip, I was thinking of yesterday. You praised Obama for -- for focusing on threats in all four corners of the world, you said.
And I wanted to know -- in your mind, what's -- what's the difference of -- between being the indispensable nation, as the president said, for global security and being the world's police -- that negative connotation we've heard for so long? Isn't this one in the same? Is it time to get past the, you know, that -- that type of rhetoric?
SEC. HAGEL: Kevin, no. I don't think it's the same; and let me explain why. In the president's reference to an indispensable nation, an indispensable nation means a world leader.
It means a leader of alliances that bring people together for and with common interests that deal with common challenges. It means what we are continuing to do -- capacity-building with partners, using all our instruments of power with our partners; building alliances, strengthening alliances.
No other nation in the world can do that. I think the president has done it. I think the president's reference to the United States as the hub of global alliances like no nation ever in history is exactly the point.
The United States of America is the hub of more alliances than any nation on Earth. And no other nation can do that and can play that role. I think that's a lot different from being the -- the sheriff or the policeman of the world.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, Karen and then Tammy and that'll -- that'll be it. Got it. That's good.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, the president spoke yesterday about a new region of threat now that we're withdrawing from Afghanistan. He spoke about from South Asia to the Sahel and across -- across North Africa.
He also proposed new programs and new cooperations with those areas. And we've talked a lot about ISR and moving resources that are freed up by Afghanistan and Iraq to that area.
Part of the rebalancing has always been using assets freed up from Afghanistan and Iraq to move to Asia. Do you see any change in the rebalancing because of these new priorities that the president has outlined yesterday and a diminishment of the kind of resources that you're going to be able to devote to the -- to the Far East?
And secondarily, could I ask you please to comment on General Shinseki's situation? This seems to be the big news in Washington today; a lot of prominent Democrats are now calling for his resignation. What do you think of that and what do you think is going to happen?
SEC. HAGEL: Karen, on your first question, the quick short answer is no. It's not going to -- what the president said yesterday and his explanation and addressing the emerging threats in all corners of the world will not inhibit or shorten or lessen asset positioning here in the rebalance [to] Asia-Pacific.
I think he talked at some length in specific terms regarding Afghanistan, as well as other areas where we now are positioned as we rebalance and we reposition our force posture, working with our partners, again, focusing on helping build those capacities, capabilities of our partners.
As I said yesterday, and I think the president made this point, we're dealing in a world of many networks of challenges. And the specific areas that you mentioned, that the president mentioned -- North Africa and beyond -- are not indigenous or limited to one nation because there are no borders in these threats.
That doesn't diminish at all the commitment that -- nor will it -- that we have made to this rebalance in Asia and the Pacific.
As to the VA situation, I'm aware of the VA inspector general's initial report on the Phoenix facility. I think, as has already been noted by many individuals -- the president of the United States, Secretary Shinseki, what I've said before -- the focus must be on fixing the problem; understanding the depth and the width of the problem.
And obviously the inspector general's report, that initial report, which I recognize is not final yet, but it -- but it certainly gives us enough information to know that there -- there are problems and they -- they have to be addressed.
So, I -- I leave the -- the politics of it to others. But I've made it very clear where I am as a veteran on this to -- where I am as a secretary of defense; this has to get fixed and this is as high a priority as this country has, taking care of its veterans.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, again, I'm not going to get into General Shinseki's future. I'll leave that to others.
But I would say that General Shinseki is a war veteran, disabled; lost part of his foot in Vietnam. And I think he understands not just the systematic depth of all of this -- that's his job, and I'll let him explain that -- but more to the point, what our veterans deserve and the kind of quality health care, the kind of safety in the health care and access. And so, I -- I will leave it there.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Tammy, last question.
Q: A quick question about Ukraine -- what you've seen on the border, as far as the withdrawing of Russian troops -- what kind of message you think, or what your take is on that and whether or not you've spoken to the Russian defense minister.
SEC. HAGEL: I have not spoken to the Russian defense minister about the Russians pulling troops back from the Ukraine border.
We do know that thousands of Russian troops have been pulled back and are moving away, but we also know that there are still thousands of Russian troops still there that have not yet moved.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think any time you're moving troops away and equipment and assets away, that's promising.
But they are not where they need to be and won't be until all of their troops that they positioned along that border a couple of months ago are gone.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.