Thursday, January 27, 2000 - 4:30 p.m. EST
KENNETH BACON: Walter Slocombe is the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and he was the person who ran the meetings with Lieutenant General Xiong Guangkai. And we'll give you a readout on what happened and then take your questions.
MR. SLOCOMBE: Good afternoon, and thanks for coming down.
The purpose of this event is to tell you a little bit about what happened in the Defense Consultative Talks with General Xiong Guangkai from the Chinese Ministry of Defense on Tuesday and Wednesday, and to answer your questions.
As you know, we had meetings of the DCT on Tuesday and Wednesday, and during those talks we reviewed a wide range of issues, and we agreed on a program to resume our military-to-military relationship, with a schedule of events for the coming year. These meetings are an important part of the process of engagement between our two countries and our two defense establishments.
Specifically, we agreed, subject to final approval in capitals, on a package of military contacts during the coming year. These will include high-level military and professional visits, some confidence-building measures, and participation in multinational events. They will be conducted over the course of the next year, and they are consistent with recent congressional legislation.
One of the first events in the program will be a visit by Admiral Blair, who, as you know, is the commander in chief for the Pacific, during the coming months.
This is a balanced and deliberate program that seeks to reopen contacts. These contacts are an important tool for building confidence and understanding. But we will, however, do this program at a pace which is geared to our overall relations, and of course it will be consistent with applicable legislation.
Secretary Cohen met with General Xiong Guangkai and was invited to visit Beijing later this year. And as I think he said at his press availability with the British defense minister, he will do so, at a time to be worked out.
General Xiong also met with the chairman; with Jim Steinberg, the deputy director -- or the deputy national security adviser; with Undersecretary of State Pickering; and with State Department Senior Adviser John Holum, as well as meeting with some members of Congress and a number of private groups.
During the talks this week, in addition to the military-to-military contact program, we discussed a broad range of subjects. These included global, regional, and bilateral issues. They provided an opportunity for us, on our part, to lay down U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, our overall China policy -- including, of course, with respect to Taiwan -- and to explain our thinking on missile defense issues.
It also provided an opportunity for the Chinese to present their views on these and other subjects.
In these discussions I stressed that the Asia-Pacific region is a critical U.S. interest, that our forward military presence there is a factor for security in the region, and that it is essential -- I'm sorry, and that security -- is essential for all countries to achieve continued economic growth, prosperity, increased respect for human rights, the rule of law, the development of democracy, economic development and peace.
I made clear that we do not seek confrontation and we do not follow a policy of containment or domination. We have strong differences of view with the government of China on some important issues, and we will protect our interests, but we do not regard China as an enemy.
The tone of the talks was cordial, despite real differences on some key issues. I believe that General Xiong Guangkai came to re-start military-to-military contacts and he returns to China with a sense that the United States is committed to engagement with China and to cooperate where we have common approaches and interests and to work through our differences to resolve them where they exist.
With that background, I'd be glad to take your questions.
QYes, Admiral Blair is on record as stating that the buildup of short-range Chinese missiles opposite Taiwan justifies, under the Taiwan Relations Act, the provision of missile defense to Taiwan. Did this issue come up? And what is your view on the Chinese missile buildup?
MR. SLOCOMBE: The issue did come up. We made clear that we will continue our sale of defensive arms to Taiwan so as to provide, in the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, a sufficient defense capability. No decisions have been made on the specific issue that you raise, but we also made clear that one of the reasons why this is an issue is the buildup of Chinese missile capability and that since we're talking about what's a sufficient defense capability, obviously, the level of Chinese deployments is a relevant factor.
QWould you characterize their view of the National Missile Defense Program the United States is working on?
MR. SLOCOMBE: They made clear that they would prefer to see the ABM Treaty unchanged.
We outlined the reasons both why we think this program is a prudent measure to respond to a very real threat, that no decision on deployment has been made, but that we are proceeding with a development program, and that we have initiated talks with Russia on modifying the ABM Treaty so as to permit a limited defense. We made the point that we would very much prefer to see that deployment, if it goes forward, go forward in a framework of arms control.
QThey only expressed reservations because of the ABM Treaty and the possible break-out? There were no other reservations expressed by them on this --
MR. SLOCOMBE: Well, they'll have to say in detail what their position is. They made it clear they do not agree with our going forward with the National Missile Defense.
QMr. Secretary, did you try during the talks to persuade the Chinese to perhaps show some restraint on their missile build-up vis-a-vis Taiwan, and did they show any -- were there any signs that they would try to do that?
MR. SLOCOMBE: We made the point that while China obviously has a sovereign right to decide for itself where it deploys its military forces, there are consequences to how that sovereign right is exercised, and that one of the factors in our decisions about arms sales to Taiwan is the state of the Chinese threat to Taiwan because our statutory standard and our policy is to provide Taiwan with a sufficient defense capability. And obviously the level of Chinese deployment and the character of it is a very important factor in that.
QYou mentioned in your opening remarks that you had agreed on, among other things, confidence-building measures. What were you referring to, specifically? What kind of events?
MR. SLOCOMBE: The full program still has to be approved in capitals. So we're not in a position to announce all the details. But just to give you two examples, one is to resume the discussions on the arrangement for the military maritime arrangements to try to prevent incidents at sea, and that --
QThat was already done --
MR. SLOCOMBE: One of the things which we're going to do during the coming year is to continue those meetings, which we believe constitute a confidence-building measure. The agreement was announced some time ago. It was actually signed when the secretary was in China in -- what? -- '98.
And the second example would be discussions on how the military can contribute to responding to humanitarian and natural disasters.
QBut not exercises, just discussions? Is that --
MR. SLOCOMBE: At this stage, that's right.
QCan you give us some illustrations of how this package, this tentative package, I guess we have to call it now, has been brought into conformity with the legislative requirements, perhaps by comparison with what the corresponding activities would have been up and through last year?
MR. SLOCOMBE: We reviewed each -- well, first of all, as I said, we think that the re-start of the military-to-military relations should proceed at a pace which is consistent with the overall relations. For that reason, we think it's appropriate to start gradually and make this a very prudent and deliberate process. We are also, obviously, subject to the terms of the statute passed last year, and we reviewed each potential activity against the standards of the statute.
QMr. Secretary, as I know, that General Xiong also expressed their, you know, strong protest about the Taiwan Enhancement Act in the Capitol Hill. Did the administration express your position on this subject? And after General Xiong, is there another exchange program or someone coming from China?
MR. SLOCOMBE: Well, there will certainly be Chinese visitors as a part of the exchange program. The specific announcements will be made in due course.
With respect to the Security Enhancement -- the so-called Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, the administration has made clear that it does not favor that legislation.
QDid the subject of additional E2-C Hawkeye aircraft for Taiwan come up your discussions?
MR. SLOCOMBE: The short answer to that is "no."
QDid the general express the Chinese view that the bombing of the Belgrade Embassy was deliberate, and did he ask for punishment for the American officials involved, or has he gotten over that? (Scattered laughter.)
MR. SLOCOMBE: Neither of those two answers -- (chuckles) -- (laughter) -- neither of those two. They recalled the incident, but it was not a big issue in the discussions.
QAnd did the issue of possible Aegis ships being sold to Taiwan come up?
MR. SLOCOMBE: I think the way I want to answer all the rest of these questions about specific things is that we made clear it is not our practice to discuss specific sales.
We made clear that we will continue our arms sales relationship with Taiwan in accordance with -- consistent with the three communiques and in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, and that our policy is to consider Taiwan requests in the context of what we assess to be the threat against the standard of providing a sufficient defense capability.
QSir, have you seen any evidence of tensions increasing between Beijing and Taipei as the election on Taiwan grows closer? And also, are you aware of any new arms sales, major arms sales by Russia to China? I'm thinking specifically of submarines, but of any other major weapon systems?
MR. SLOCOMBE: Well, there was a destroyer delivered recently.
MR. SLOCOMBE: Yeah. We watch the acquisition -- we watch the world arms market in general very carefully, and that includes with respect to China. There's no question that there's been a substantial increase in Russian sales to China in recent years, some of it probably driven strictly, from the Russian point of view, by economic considerations. That's a subject which we watch very closely.
I'm sorry, what was the first question?
QThinking specifically about the sale of submarines, additional submarines.
MR. SLOCOMBE: The Russians have sold, what is it, four kilo-class submarines, and it is certainly possible they will sell more.
QDo you have any feeling on the state of tensions between Beijing and Taipei?
MR. SLOCOMBE: Well, there's no question that there has been an increase in the level of tension between Taipei and Beijing in -- since last summer. The point we made to General Xiong Guangkai, as we have made through diplomatic channels and as we've also made through our unofficial relations with Taiwan, is that it is in everybody's interest to avoid a build-up of tensions as we move into the election period in Taiwan and then the subsequent formation of a government and the establishment of that government's policies.
QSir, did you discuss nonproliferation? And the Chinese have been trying to link their cooperation with the United States on that question with arms sales to Taiwan. What is your reaction to that?
MR. SLOCOMBE: We did discuss nonproliferation concerns, and what you say is one of the Chinese rhetorical points on this subject. However, they also said that they adhere to a variety of international nonproliferation agreements. We made clear that we attach very great importance to their strictly complying both with their legal obligations and with some political undertakings that they've made to the United States.
QDid you discuss North Korea? And if so, what aspects of the problem --
MR. SLOCOMBE: That is, as you know, one of the areas in which we share a fairly strong common concern that tensions in the Korean Peninsula should be reduced and, specifically, that Korea should be non-nuclear. There is some -- the Chinese in general believe that the danger from the North Korean regime is less than we would characterize it as being, but they agree with the basic objective, and we discussed some of the moves which have been made in connection with the Perry initiatives and that kind of thing.
QThe cutoff, or the freezing of their missile testing plan, for example, or --
MR. SLOCOMBE: Right. We outlined the state of those discussions.
QDid they have an opinion on whether that bodes well or ill for prospects of --
MR. SLOCOMBE: The Chinese will have to say what their own opinions are. They made clear that they do not think it is in anybody's interest for North Korea to pose a threat which would increase tensions and, specifically, a nuclear threat.
QMr. Secretary --
MR. SLOCOMBE: At the back. Yeah.
QThe proposed National Missile Defense System, when it was -- if it were deployed and it was fully operational, would have the capability to deal with tens of ICBMs. The Chinese only have tens of ICBMs, perhaps two dozen or something. What did you tell them to convince them that NMD is not designed to take away their nuclear deterrent?
MR. SLOCOMBE: It's not for us to convince them of that proposition.
And their objection, I have to say, was more generally based.
I have said in the past that we believe that our system is designed with respect to rogue states. That is the concern. It is not aimed at China or Russia or any other country, other than the rogue states.
QHow would you characterize the two days of talks? I mean, what's your feeling about the outcome of these two days of talks?
MR. SLOCOMBE: I think -- first of all, there were clear statements of strongly different views on a number of subjects. There were also statements of -- not exact identity but areas where we did agree. It was I think a fairly intense, sustained set of discussions.
General Xiong Guangkai, who seems to like to count things like this, maintained that it was longer than any of our previous meetings. But it was a good meeting. General Xiong Guangkai is a serious person to talk to.
I don't know. Does that --
QI mean, how much did you spend, do you know?
MR. SLOCOMBE: According to Xiong Guangkai's count, which in this respect I at least will accept as authoritative, he said it was something like 12 hours -- was his trip. I do not certify the accuracy of that number; it's only -- it's what he said it was.
QCould you elaborate the "proposed exchanges in a multilateral context"?
MR. SLOCOMBE: There are some multilateral activities that the Chinese and the United States will both take part in. And, as I said, we'll announce those details, as appropriate, as they come up.
QDid you discuss the NATO operation in Kosovo? And what were Chinese feelings about that?
MR. SLOCOMBE: The Chinese view on the Kosovo operation is well- known. We outlined our position. I am not sure either side convinced the other of -- the merits of that judgment.
QYou don't have any doubt?
MR. SLOCOMBE: No, I -- well, no, I do not believe -- we exchanged views on this issue without either side noticeably changing its position.
I think we should have exhausted the subject. (Laughs.) (Laughter.) Thank you.
QThank you very much.
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