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Media Availability with Secretary Carter Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
Nov. 5, 2015
STAFF: As expected, we're a little behind schedule so a quick word off the top if you wanted to meet with these guys or just jump to questions?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: I'll only say that being here on the Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea is a symbol and signifies the stabilizing presence of the United States has had in this part of the world for decades. The fact that I'm here with the defense minister from another country, in fact in this case Malaysia, that indicates the great demand out here in this region for the American presence, because it's been a stabilizing presence for decades here.

A rebalance as we call it is intended to keep that going. That's the environment in which all the economic miracles in Asia have occurred and that's -- they are important to the United States economically because half of the world's commerce arises or passes through this part of the world. And so, keeping that going is the purpose of the rebalancing.

The TR is doing that today along with some other vessels.

Q: Kind of sort of put it into context, this visit of leaders to this ship in this particular location given the events of the past couple of weeks to include of course the (inaudible) in the last several years, Admiral Harrison's visit to Beijing, the other contacts and exchanges (inaudible) had with the Chinese recently. How does this fit in?

SEC. CARTER: Well, this isn't something that by itself is unusual, an American warship in the South China Sea, that's been going on for decades. And so, my visiting with defense ministers of other countries in this region is not a new thing.

The United States has long had a lot of key alliances and partnerships out here. If it's being noted today in a special way, it's because of the tension in this part of the world, mostly arising from disputes over land features in the South China Sea.

And most of the activity over the last year being perpetrated by China. So there is a lot of concern about Chinese behavior out here and that was signified in a meeting I was just present at. And many countries in the region are coming to the United States and asking us to do more with them so that we can keep the peace out here. So this is a symbol and a sign of the critical role the United States' military power play in a -- what is a very consequential region for the American future.

STAFF: (inaudible)? Sorry. Pardon.

Q: Kind of had a similar question. It just, you know -- this kind of cumulates a week or so of a lot of activity, starting with the -- (inaudible) -- between diplomatically and operationally, quite a week or 10 days after months of kind of debate or whatever.

I mean, yes, I kind of really had the same question.

I mean, kind of thread together, what's again the message or how do you think will be received here? Because they're very curious about what you're doing here and what the U.S. continues to expect to do here.

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think my being here signifies the pivotal world that American military power plays in keeping peace and stability in the East Asia region, a region that's critical to the world. Half the world's population lives here. Half the world's economy arises here. America has long been a stabilizing force here.

And the presence of the TR and my visit here is a reflection of that and the reflection of what we call the rebalance which is our determination to keep going the peace and stability which has allowed all the Asian miracles to occur over the last seven years.

Also, I have with me a defense minister of Malaysia. I just spent a day and a half with the defense ministers of the entire region to include Japan and China and Korea, lot of -- India. Lots of rising important military players out here. And it's important for us all to get together cause remember, the American approach to a security structure for Asia is an inclusive one.

We're not trying to make divisions. We want China to be part of the security system of Asia and not to stand apart from it. That's why I accepted the invitation of President Xi extended to me to visit China. I told the Chinese defense minister yesterday that I accepted that. I look forward to coming there. I believe that discussions with China, military to military contact with China, making sure that nobody does anything or has any misunderstandings out here. All that's a critical part of the job of keeping peace and stability out here and this here reflects that.

STAFF: Terry, Terry? Sorry, last one for you here. We're just tight on time out here you know.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the nickname of the Roosevelt is the Big Stick. Given the experience you've had over the last day and a half where the negotiations you sought to get for the -- through us, the -- kind of fell through.

Is this a reminder of the American power behind kind of the softer forms of diplomacy?

SEC. CARTER: Well, we, and first of all, on the conference itself, remember, we weren't part of the drafting of the communique. So the Asian countries that were part of that drafting process were unable to reach consensus. And that appears to have been a reflection of the fact, a reflection of the great tension out here over the issue of the South China Sea.

That was the principle topic of discussion at the meeting was the concern over the extravagant claims and the militarization principally by China. There are others who make claims also and others who have military activity, but that was the principle theme of the meeting.

Now, and that -- the purpose of that meeting was to get defense ministers together to talk about security affairs because it's always better if you're able to talk about them, reach some agreement, reach some understanding. And that's -- the United States seeks that with everyone, including China. Again, that's why I accepted the Chinese invitation to come there.

But TR's motto was, "Speak softly, but carry a big stick." There was the speak softly means, talk to other people, see what we can do to reach agreement. This is has been a region which has enjoyed stability for a long time. It would be a shame if people here ruined that. And I don't expect that to occur because I think the United States will continue to play the role it has.

A lot of people are flocking to us, wanting us to maintain that role. We intend to. The power of the TR is a reflection of that.

But the reality is, the world depends upon it because half of the population, half the economy, is here.

STAFF: All right. Got to run, everyone.