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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at the Kempinski Hotel, Beijing, China

Presenter: Defense Secretary William Cohen
January 20, 1998 8:00 AM EDT

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. I would like to start by thanking Defense Minister Chi for hosting a very warm and productive visit. He and I are both committed to taking modest but steady steps to enlarge our current areas of contact and cooperation. We are turning the agreements that Minister Chi reached in Washington in 1996 into actions that will deepen, broaden and advance our military contacts. By working together through exchange programs, ship visits and humanitarian cooperation, the United States and China can build understanding between our militaries and enhance stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

The United States Air Force recently delivered an initial shipment of 40 tons of aid to the earthquake victims this past week, and we are prepared to offer additional help, should it be required. Cooperation in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance is one area that we hope to work together more effectively in the future. And I've also suggested that exchanges between the organizations that run our nuclear forces, the Strategic Command in the United States and the Second Artillery in China, proceed. Such visits will allow us to focus on nuclear safety issues and other ways to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons and China is now studying this proposal.

It is clear to me that we are constructing a mechanism for increasing trust and confidence between our militaries. Differences remain over Taiwan, human rights and other issues, but we have a framework that allows our militaries to work together productively when we can, and disagree peacefully, when we cannot. President Clinton and President Ziang will add to this framework for peace and understanding when they meet later this year in China.

Q: Mr. Secretary could you tell us: do you think that U.S./China relations, especially military relations, are the best that they have been since Tiananmen? What kind of plateau are they on now? And what kind of concrete assurances have you received from the Chinese now -- that they will not sell anti-ship missiles to Iran?

Secretary Cohen: I will not describe our relations as being on a plateau, but as being on an ascent. Since the situation in Tiananmen, the controversy that developed as a result of that, and the tensions that existed have eased considerably. I think that the turning point was President Jiang's visit to Washington this past year. I believe since that time, there have been a number of very constructive movements undertaken.

I would also like to credit former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry for really initiating the military to military contacts. Those have been continued throughout the year and, most recently, former Secretary Perry and others, General Scocroft, General Shali, Ash Carter and others were here to continue contacts that they developed during their tenure. So, I think that all of that bodes well for us.

I think my visit yesterday to the Air Defense Command Center was a very important, symbolic step, to say the least, namely, action on the part of the Chinese to say that they are prepared to be more open, to start sharing more information, to start conducting more exchanges and visits. Their actions, as far as continuing to allow the United States to have port visits in Hong Kong, the fact that we have Chinese ships able to visit the United States, all of this will bode very well towards the future.

In respect to the assurances concerning sales to Iran; I would only reiterate what I said yesterday, that I believe that we have assurances, that I am satisfied that such sales will not continue in the future.

Q: (inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: I think that is something that will evolve in the coming weeks and months.

Q: On that same topic: are you saying that you requested additional clarification and you were given none?

Secretary Cohen: I am satisfied with the assurances that I was given yesterday, that there will not be a contribution to the kind of conventional weaponry that will jeopardize American ships in the Gulf.

Q: Anthony Lake in the Senate Confirmation Hearings last March, said that he believed that Chinese missiles were a clear threat to U.S. national security. Are Chinese missiles a threat to U.S. national security?

Secretary Cohen: Which missiles was he referring to or are you referring to?

Q: He was referring to nuclear missiles.

Secretary Cohen: Anytime you have nuclear missiles, they can obviously pose a threat to any other country. What we hope to do -- that applies to Russia, it applies to any country that might have nuclear missiles -- what we hope to achieve, is a relationship with China, Russia, other powers who have nuclear weapons, to have a reduction in those weapons, a reduction in intentions; to encourage ways in which we can minimize the risk for accident or miscalculation. That is one of the reasons I suggested to General Chi that we should encourage exchanges between our strategic commands and Second Artillery, to find ways we can reduce any chance for an accident or mishap.

Q: You emphasized a meaning of U.S./Japan guidelines in your speech, have you not found any kind of shift in China's attitude toward U.S./Japan defense cooperation?

Secretary Cohen: What I expressed yesterday, and what I expressed during my private conversations with Chinese officials, is that our relationship with Japan has been a very stabilizing force throughout the region and that the update and modernization of those guidelines will contribute to stabilization in the future; that they are not directed against any third nation, and China or any other country should not view them with any apprehension. They are for the purpose of helping to provide for Japan's security and the Japanese view it precisely in that fashion and everything in the guidelines has been made very open and transparent, and all proposals and guidelines are subordinate to the Japanese Constitution.

Q: Did the Chinese press you on the issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and did the U.S. agree to anything regarding arm sales?

Secretary Cohen: There were discussions about arms sales to Taiwan, and I reiterated that the United States is committed to the one-China policy, that we abide by the three communiques and that we also abide by our obligations in the Taiwan Relations Act. That arms sales that go to Taiwan are purely defensive in nature and they will remain so.

Q: U.S. Senator Carl Levin visiting North Korea said recently, I think in the last day or so, that he believed that North Korea had a secret nuclear facility. Can you tell us anything about what he might have been referring to?

Secretary Cohen: I think you should direct that question to Senator Levin. But if it is secret, it would not be for me to discuss it; so I think that under the circumstances, I think your question would be better directed to Senator Levin.

Q: I'm just a little bit confused about the issue of missile sales again. Apparently, one of the problems is that when the Chinese made their assurances, there was a little bit of confusion that they would fill the existing contracts. Did General Chi tell you that they would stop the fulfillment of existing contracts?

Secretary Cohen: What I can say is that I'm satisfied, after my discussions with General Chi, that there will not be a continuation of sales that would contribute to the insecurity of our troops in the region. We have made such a request, there were assurances given during President Ziang Zemen's visit, I am satisfied after my discussions that this is an issue that will not contribute to any vulnerability on the part of our armed forces in the Gulf, that there will be no continuation of such sales.

Q: It has been reported in the U.S. that you sought, from the administration, some guidelines on the sales of Sykorski parts and other kind of related materials and you were told that they couldn't go ahead. Did the Chinese bring that issue up and in what form, and where do you see that issue going?

Secretary Cohen: Well, as I indicated, the question of removal of sanctions is something that will have to take place sometime in the future. I'm sure that there will be discussions about it in the future. Beyond that, I don't think that – it would be premature for me to comment. I would hope that there would be progress made on issues that are of concern to the Congress of the United States and to President Clinton in the field of human rights. Assuming progress is made, I'm sure that we can also make progress dealing with the removal of certain sanctions.

Q: Did you discuss it?

Secretary Cohen: We discussed it, yes.

Q: Did the Chinese offer any support for the U.S. position on Iraq in the Gulf during your talks?

Secretary Cohen: I did raise this as an item for discussion, indicating I thought the best way for the UN to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issue was for the security council to remain solid and undivided and I made that point. I believe that Chinese officials understand it and hopefully they will lend their support and remain committed to an undivided UN Security Council.

Q: Can you tell us just a little bit about what you actually saw at this Air Defense Center yesterday when you went on your tour?

Secretary Cohen: No. I think it would be inappropriate for me. It was a closed briefing, an opportunity to see basically, how their systems operate, both commercially and how it is integrated and controls their airspace. But in terms of specifics, it would be inappropriate for me to comment.

Q: It has been reported that China has—in addition to the C802 missile question – that China has been involved in supporting Iran's long-range missile program. I know the administration efforts have been focused on Russia. I wanted to know if this issue of Chinese support for the long-range Iranian missile program came up in your talks.

Secretary Cohen: I did not specifically discuss long-range missiles with the Chinese officials. I did raise the concern that, to the extent that Iran is able to pose a threat to U.S. forces or to its neighbors in the field of, certainly nuclear technology, or weapons of mass destruction, -- and I would assume also in weapons of mass destruction that would include the capability of inflicting that in the short-range or long-range, but we have not specifically discussed long-range missiles, -- but, I made it very clear; that we would seek and expect to have some support for contributing to a peaceful resolution of our issues in that region, that we would not like to see Iran be put in a position of threatening its neighbors or indeed, the United States. They, I think, appreciate our concern. I think they are prepared to respond positively.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there is a report that in the New York Times that you yourself, suggested, before you left Washington at one point, that perhaps helicopters parts might be sold to Beijing, as a goodwill gesture to the Chinese. Did you raise that issue and are you disappointed that they are not being sold?

Secretary Cohen: Any conversations that I have in the national security field remain a private matter and I don't care to discuss them on any occasion.

Q: Again, on the subject of Iran, did you discuss the political context of relations with Iran. That is, the changes there and the leadership and the possibility of a change in Iran's attitude toward the West, toward China for that matter?

Secretary Cohen: I did raise the issue that certainly, President Clinton, all of us were encouraged by the words that have been issued by President Katami. We had not seen such words translated into positive deeds. We have seen no evidence of a change in the foreign policy on the part of Iran. Indeed, we have seen a contradiction of the President's statements by the Cleric leadership. And so, our policy cannot change, and will not change, until such time as we see a modification of the behavior on the part of the Iranians by ceasing their support for terrorism, by ceasing trying to undermine the Middle East Peace Process and by also ceasing from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Those three components must be part of any realistic change in our relationship with Iran. If they are prepared to undertake to make those kind of changes and modify their behavior, then obviously, that will be the basis for a constructive dialogue between the United States and Iran.

Q: I would like to ask you, have you had any discussion with Chinese officials during your visit, about the coming visit of President Clinton to China?

Secretary Cohen: Only in general terms. I indicated that my own visit here was a very positive development. I believe it will contribute to the trip by President Clinton later during the course of the year. I know that the officials, and I will be meeting with President Jiang Zemin very shortly, I know that they are looking very much forward to the President's visit. So I think that these types of exchanges and visits on my part and other officials can only serve as a very, I think, positive prelude to President Clinton's arrival later this year.

Q: So actually, what will this visit of yours to Beijing bring about to the future to China- America's military cooperation, especially in this region of the world? Can you clarify your purpose of your visit?

Secretary Cohen: I have a very long speech that I delivered yesterday. I would be happy to repeat key portions of it, but perhaps it can be distributed for your benefit. What I tried to point out, what we seek to do is to deepen the relationship that we have; in terms of expanding upon the kinds of military exchanges that we are currently undertaking. I've mentioned before, we can find ways in which we can even broaden that level of contact moderately or modestly, step-by-step. We are not seeking to rush or accelerate this change in our relationship. We want to take it step-by-step so that we don't create unrealistic expectations and then unfortunate anxieties or rejections. And so, we want to avoid what General Chi said in Washington last year, the zigzag in our relations, but have a steady course in improvement so that we can deepen our current military-to-military contacts.

We can broaden them in ways in which we can perhaps share experiences in military environmental issues. This is something that I know is of great concern to us, in terms of what happens as far as military operations and facilities, how do they contribute to environmental degradation. There are things that we have done in the United States to deal with our environment. We think that will be important to start dialogue in that area.

We can have an exchange of our leaders in the field of our strategic forces, and find ways in which we can minimize the chance for any miscalculation or accident. These are areas that can both deepen and broaden our relationship and then find other ways in which we can continue these contacts.

The ship visits, the exchange of military personnel, the ability to work together in humanitarian operations. For example, we have discussed ways in which we can cooperate on humanitarian missions. The recent arrival of some of our supplies to help alleviate the suffering of the people from the earthquake is an example.

But we want to go ahead in three stages; to have what we call table talk exercises, so that we can look at ways in which our respective forces could, in fact, cooperate together. And then actually go to the third phase, which would be to actually exercise together. This has to come in a very step-by-step, methodical way in order to build the solid foundation for the relationship.

I think too often we have tried to accelerate our relations and we've, again, had a spike in expectations and then a deep level of resentment when they don't bear out. We think that we are on the right course. It's very moderate in approach and we believe that it will be enduring in that fashion.

Q: Two quick questions: was there any discussion about the potential for the U.S. to assist in the professionalization of the PLA? The PLA in the past has been involved in internal security matters and that has been a concern, I believe, for some people in the U.S. Congress. And the second question is about Theater Missile Defense. In fact, the PLA has expressed some concern about U.S. work in these areas, especially concerning this region. Did that issue come up?

Secretary Cohen: With respect to their professionalization, we did not really indulge in that kind of an exchange in terms of what could be done to help professionalize their military. I think that's something that they would look upon as an intrusion into their development.

Should the time come, as we are doing with other countries, have an IMET Program where we have an educational program, where we have officers from various countries come to the United States to share in experiences and talk of tactics, doctrine operations, that is something that we did not raise. I have done so with other countries in the region. But, it is obviously something that could occur sometime in the future. To the extent that we have our military officials who have these exchanges with them, then I think that there is an opportunity for interaction and to learn in that fashion.

With respect to the Theater Missile defenses, there was only a passing reference, I think, made to TMD, but it was not an issue of great concern. I have tried to indicate that we believe that a Theater Missile Defense Systems are of vital importance to the security of our troops. We are forward deployed. I spent a good deal of time talking about the strategic basis for our being forward deployed in the past, and that we intend to continue to be forward deployed in the future; that we will maintain roughly, one hundred thousand troops in the general Asia-Pacific region. We believe that contributes to stability, and ultimately, the stability will lead to prosperity. That has happened since the end of WWII, we have had that effect, we intend to maintain that presence.

With respect to maintaining that presence, we also have to protect our forces. And because we are forward deployed, we intend to have Theater Missile Defenses to protect those troops.