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Background Briefing by Senior Department of Defense Officials enroute to Singapore

Presenter: Senior Department of Defense Official
May 29, 2014

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Before we refuel and all that, so I'm going to really keep this overview short and sweet. Look, I would just say there are three primary purposes here of this speech at Shangri-La. One is, I think, that his speech folds very nicely and is a nice complement to the president's vision that he outlined earlier this week. And I think you'll see, you know, a lot of the themes that the president outlined reflected in Secretary Hagel's speech, both in terms of the defense side, defense cooperation, and in the rebalance writ large.

The second dovetailing on that is that, you know, I think the speech is going to make the point that, you know, the rebalance is real, it continues, and it continues to be a very effective strategy. And DoD is moving out very smartly and continues to deliver real results here in the Asia Pacific.

And then, third, the speech will treat, you know, the maritime disputes issue, both the South China Sea and the Senkakus, and other potential conflicts, such as North Korea. So I think those are sort of the three things to be on the lookout for in the speech.

Pivoting to the overall trip, this is Secretary Hagel's fifth trip to Asia in just over a year. He'll probably get out to Asia -- I would say actually likely be out to Asia four times this year, which, you know, is -- I haven't seen a SECDEF in recent memory been out here as many times in a single calendar year.

He, you know, just is -- just for those of you who don't know, has a long personal history with the Shangri-La Dialogue, was the first -- you know, led the first congressional delegation to the very first Shangri-La Dialogue several years ago, and so much so that John Chipman tweeted, I think a couple years ago, that Chuck Hagel was an early rebalancer. So I'll leave it at that.

Just in terms of the schedule, he's got, really, a full schedule that builds on a lot of the momentum and the relationships he's made over the past year-plus as Secretary of Defense, and a lot of familiar interlocutors, a lot of familiar themes, and it's getting a lot of good progress.

But just to tick through it quickly, he's meeting with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore, almost upon arrival in his first meeting. He'll also meet with Prime Minister Abe right before the dinner tonight, and that will pick up again probably some of the themes that they discussed earlier this spring in Tokyo. And then it looks like six defense ministers -- the defense minister of Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. And, again, you know, I look at this list and he's got very strong relationships with all six of those and has had repeated touches with them, both in person and over the phone recently.

There will also be two trilaterals. One is the trilateral with the Australians and Japanese. That's tonight. And then a second trilateral, of course, with the Koreans and Japanese the following day. And that, of course, builds on the good momentum of the trilateral summit that President Obama convened at The Hague, and then as well as the defense trilateral talks that we hosted at the Pentagon in Washington earlier this spring. It sort of keeps the momentum especially on the security side going in the right direction.

Finally, I'd just mention that he is going to do a short meeting with Lieutenant General Wang, who is roughly the undersecretary secretary for policy equivalent in the People's Liberation Army. So it'll be a short meeting. The Chinese requested that meeting, and the secretary was happy to have a face-to-face with the senior head of delegation from the People's Republic of China.

So I think with that, I'll stop, open it up to questions. I know the big guy is coming out soon, so, you know, want to get him out here and open up questions for him, so I'll stop.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about what you want out of the trilat with Japan and South Korea? Are there concrete steps of cooperation (off mic) exercises that you think that could (off mic)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, I think you hit two of the major deliverables. I think, look, one is, we -- we continue to push for increased and deeper cooperation on ballistic missile defense in Northeast Asia. And we view these two partners as key components of our architecture. You know, and right now, we're in kind of -- little bit of a hub-and-spoke model with the U.S. in the middle talking to the Japanese on one side, talking to the Koreans on the other. And the trick is to get this more integrated and interoperable.

The Koreans, you know, as you know, want to have their own system. That makes sense, you know, for where they sit right now. But the key is to get it interoperable and integrated into one system that is -- is effective as possible.

And then the second issue you raise, exercises, absolutely. You know, we were able to conduct a pretty interesting out-of-area counter-piracy exercise on a trilateral basis with these two countries last year. We continue to look for new opportunities, exercises, with these guys, both in East Asia and elsewhere. We -- you know, a year-and-a-half ago, we conducted a pretty interesting PSI exercise with these and the Australians in sort of a quad.

So, yes, tangible results. I don't think they will flow out of this meeting, but the touch and commitment of the ministers to make progress on these is generally followed up at the assistant secretary level, deputy assistant, and generally leads to results in the coming months.

Q: On China, what -- what do you think the tone is going to be? And how much have the (off mic)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, I think -- I think that the tone on China's going to be very consistent, where the president was on NPR, I think, today. And I think Secretary Burns also gave some comments recently, so I think it'll be very consistent with that tone. And, look, in terms of the overall relationship, I think what we're trying to do is continue the pretty good progress we've had on the military-to-military relationship with the Chinese. You know, it's -- as Secretary Hagel noted, it's got -- it's a frank dialogue. It's -- it's -- it's sometimes a little -- it sometimes can be a little contentious, but at the end of the day, it's -- the dialogue is getting more real, it's getting deeper, it's getting broader across issues, so we want to keep that going.

And then, you know, the second point is, again, to, you know, make our positions clear, right? Clear on the maritime disputes, clear on cyber, you know, and -- and, really, these positions have not changed much really over the past year, year-and-a-half, but to continue to make it -- make clear to the Chinese that these are our interests, these -- we're going to continue to raise and push these issues, both here in the region and around the world.

Q: (off mic)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh (off mic) do you want to call or do (off mic). Choosing between Kevin and Gopal is a Hobson's choice.

MODERATOR: Gopal, go ahead.

Q: (off mic) why do you think (off mic) despite (off mic)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would say this. One, it's interesting, because I -- in the front-channel diplomacy that myself, the secretary, other senior officials engage in, there is not, you know, expression of doubts or a lot of hand-wringing. You know, there's a lot of appreciation and -- and comments on the -- that -- especially in the security side, this continues to move out and move strongly. And, you know, look, I would just say, look, we've been here and kind of this -- this posture for the last 60 years, you know, war and peace, economic surplus, economic deficit, partisanship at home, comity at home.

So, you know, we've been -- we've been through ups and downs, but we have a proven track record of being here, and we're going to continue to be here. And, you know, look, I've been -- I've been dealing with this region now for -- going on 15 years, and some of these doubts have persisted, you know, for -- when I was here, you know, out here in the late '90s, early 2000s, you heard similar expressions of doubts for different reasons, you know, we're -- we're distracted by Iraq, we're doing -- you know, the Cold War is over, the U.S. is going to pull out.

You know, so I think part of it is that, you know, we just -- part of -- part of the importance of these dialogues is to continue to come, to continue to make your case, and continue to show that the U.S. in tangible, real terms is here and here for the long haul.

MODERATOR: Kevin?

Q: Two things. On moving beyond (off mic) trilat (off mic) how do you measure progress (off mic) where is the vision (off mic) secondly, can you comment on Thailand (off mic) taking the country of Thailand seriously (off mic) Thailand (off mic)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, I would defer to -- on your first question, Chris and Amy, who've been working this account for longer than me, can probably provide very specific examples on Japan and Korea. All I would say is that, you know, each year that we do the defense trilateral talks -- I think I've done it two or three times -- the breadth of the areas in which we're cooperating has increased. And Chris can provide concrete examples on that. And the depth, right, the integration has increased.

You know, I think on the missile defense, you know, the goal is, you know, as I said, it's -- you know, we want to make progress on more of an integrated and interoperable system, right? And, you know, we are making a lot of progress. I mean, if you talked to -- to General Thurman after the last provocation cycle, he said, look, compared to where we were just a few years ago, it was very strong.

We had the South Koreans out, you know, using their platforms, talking to us, the Japanese systems were out talking to us. You know, is the integration perfect? Is it where we want to be? No, but it's substantial progress and elevated -- elevated integration that we haven't seen in a -- you know, that we had not seen before.

So if you want more concrete, Chris, do you want to --

Q: (off mic) security (off mic)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, you know, look, I think -- you know, I think what we want to see is just sort of better -- I think what you ultimately want to see is just, you know, first of all, you know, our three countries aligned in a very tight trilateral formation, especially in times of provocation on the -- on the Korean peninsula. I think that's the foundation of where we start, right?

And then I think the second -- and something that we've pushed -- pushed very hard both the Japanese and Koreans is, is cooperation, you know, throughout the region, right? And that's the second point.

And, look, you have seen that. You know, I think you've seen it more on a bilateral basis, but -- but eventually I think you'll get there on a trilateral. But you saw the Japanese do the biggest out-of-area deployment of the Japanese self-defense force since World War II into the Philippines, right, in response to the typhoon. You've seen the Koreans now deeply involved in Southeast Asia, especially on a development front. You've seen the Japanese, I think for the first time, have security assistance programs, so we're starting to move to that.

And then, finally, you know, what you'd say the ultimate goal is, deeper integration on the global scale, right, into peacekeeping. And, really, that's consistent with the vision of President Park, right? She has said, if you read her -- her sort of vision of trust politique. There's a trust politique with North Korea, but her third prong is a global trust politique, where the -- where the South Koreans are out and about integrated into the -- into the architecture of the U.N. and other international organizations.

MODERATOR: (off mic) let these go (off mic) secretary (off mic) thanks.

-END-

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