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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Asia-Pacific U.S. Military Overview

Admiral Robert Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Washington, DC
September 27, 2011




9:15 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have for you Admiral Willard, U.S. Pacific Command Commander, to deliver an Asian Pacific Military Overview Briefing. Without further ado, here is the admiral.

ADM WILLARD: Thank you very much. Very nice to be back at the Foreign Press Center and very much look forward to your questions. I’m Admiral Bob Willard from United States Pacific Command. I will have been in command for two years next month. And as always, the Asia Pacific remains both a thrilling and challenging part of the world, we think critical to the global economy, certainly critical to the United States and its interests. And we very much enjoy the main thrust of our responsibilities there, which is to continue to contribute to the region’s security and overall stability and future prosperity.

There are, obviously, challenges in the Asia Pacific that I think you all recognize and we talk about quite frequently. The United States relationship with China is a very important relationship that continues to need to be managed well. It’s one of the responsibilities that we bear to endeavor to improve relations between the two militaries. The challenges that North Korea has posed, I think most acute in 2010, and we continue to observe nuclearization and proliferation and other very serious issues as they relate to North Korea, and so that remains a focus of U.S. Pacific Command and mine to continue to work both within the United States Government and with our regional partners to see North Korea change trajectory, we hope. And that is a very important area of concern.

And there are many other challenges as well. We have five treaty allies and partners. We endeavor to strengthen those alliances and grow partnerships with the likes of Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and our other friends in the region.

Challenges in the South China Sea have remained in focus. They were again brought forward and made, I think, very prominent in 2010, and we continue to work with ASEAN Regional Forum and others to manage those challenges in 2011.

So many things to talk about and think about. I very much look forward to your questions this morning. Thank you.

MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion of the event, please state your name and publication for the transcript and wait for the microphone, which could be coming from either side. Let’s come down here. Can we get a microphone?

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral Willard. My name is Bingru Wang with Phoenix TV Hong Kong. My question is yesterday Secretary Clinton met the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the Chinese officials clearly indicated due to the arms sales with Taiwan that China may suspend or cancel the military-to-military program. Have you ever talked to your Chinese counterpart after the announcement?

Secondly, if China suspend or cancel the military-to-military talks, again, how do you think China and the U.S. should break this vicious circle? Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah. Thank you. A very good question. While it was just prior to the official announcement made by the United States, I think the subject of Taiwan arms sales had already broken in the news media, and I was being visited by the Jinan Military Region Commander, General Fan, at U.S. PACOM Headquarters in Hawaii, so I was having a meeting with a senior People’s Liberation Army leader just prior to the official announcement. And of course, we discussed many things, mostly the things that the United States and China have in common, and we thought that we could continue to promote in areas of cooperation. Taiwan arms sales was raised. He did not raise the issue of consequences to our military-to-military relationship, should that occur.

Given that that has always been a consequence in previous times, we would anticipate that it will be again to some level. The difference, I think, this time is the outcome of the last year, which has been a pretty good year in terms of senior leader engagement, and engagement even across ministries. I had the opportunity to attend the Strategic Economic Dialogue, within which we executed what was termed the Strategic Security Dialogue between the U.S. and China. It included both PLA and Department of Defense from the United States side, the ministry of foreign affairs and our State Department, and it was a very effective meeting discussing some strategic-level issues.

I think that regardless of the effects of this particular round of Taiwan arms sales and disagreement between our two governments on that issue, that China will be very likely to retain the high-level visitation, the highest-level visitation that will enable us to continue those strategic-level discussions. I think they recognize the importance to them, and we certainly recognize the importance to the relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral. My name is Chi Dung Lee. I am with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Let me ask you a couple of questions on Korea.

In 2010, as you said, North Korea carried out a series of attacks on the South Korea, killing 50 people, both civilians and soldiers. At the time, South Korea’s defense minister said if North Korea attacks again, his troops will strike back immediately. What do you think about his strong view about the matter?

And the second part of my question is, obviously, the United States and the two Koreas seem to be in a dialogue pace these days. But as you know, North Korea is unpredictable. So what do you think about the possibility of North Korea’s another nuclear or long-range missile test next year, especially next year, which is a big year for the communist nation. Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah. Thank you. Again, both very good questions and timely questions. I think the – I think there is general consensus that as a consequence of two provocations that occurred in very short order during 2010 – the sinking of the corvette Cheonan and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which as you suggest killed both ROK Marines and ROK civilians – that the attitude of the South Korean people and the attitude of President Lee’s administration has fundamentally changed. And there is very strong, I think, intolerance at this point for any other additional provocations, and there certainly are discussions between the United States and the Republic of Korea regarding the prospects of a future provocation and how that should be responded to.

Moreover, there’s a very obvious right and obligation for the Republic of Korea to – and their forces to defend themselves. So just as we saw when YP-do was attacked, the ROK Marines conducted an artillery response in kind, and that’s not unusual. And it’s an important – defending themselves against these kinds of provocations is an issue that is – must be addressed. So certainly, we think the attitude of the Republic of Korea has altered as a consequence of those provocations last year. You suggest that in the nuclearization regime, the prospects of ballistic missile launches or additional nuclear tests could be on the horizon. And we watch these things very carefully, and we are concerned, as you suggest, that he will continue to promote his ballistic missile programs as well as his weapon programs. It’s very much the subject of the discussions that are going on right now between the United States and DPRK, and I think South Korea and the DPRK as well.

QUESTION: Hi. Good morning. My name is Nadia Tsao with The Liberty Times, Taiwan. I mean, given the difficulty of arms sales to Taiwan every year, do you think it is possible in any occasion that U.S. will actually encourage China to decrease the military buildup across Taiwan Strait. And the second one is that recently we heard a lot of U.S. official encourage Taiwan to develop asymmetric capability. And I don’t know if, as the commander of PACOM, do you agree with this design or capability that will – suitable for Taiwan. Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: I didn’t understand the nature of the capability that you mentioned.

QUESTION: Asymmetric.

ADM WILLARD: Oh, asymmetric.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ADM WILLARD: Okay. Thank you. Well, I think first of all, the disparity between combat power on either side of the strait is profound. I mean, the combat power that the People’s Republic of China holds across strait and generally directs towards Taiwan is very significant, and I think that certainly a consideration for the PRC should be whether or not that remains required in their mind’s eye.

There have been improved relations between President Ma and his administration and the mainland throughout the past couple of years that has been encouraging to all of us, and I’m sure encouraging to you and encouraging to the people of Taiwan. And yet, that very prominent combat power remains across strait. Should that factor into China’s calculus in all of this? I think the answer is yes. I mean, it should. So we would be encouraged to see that degree of disparity in combat power, that tremendous gap in capability reduced in order to continue to ease relations across the strait, were that to be in the calculus. So I think that certainly plays.

Again, whether or not asymmetric capabilities are developed, the interest of the United States in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and three communiqués is that Taiwan remain defensible, that it have the necessary capabilities and services to defend itself, and we think that that enhances stability across strait and enables the ongoing dialogue that is occurring between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, and ultimately will lend to a more favorable outcome, not detract from it.

MODERATOR: Okay. How about down here?

QUESTION: My name is Ichiro Kabasawa with NHK Japanese Public TV. I have two questions. First of all, deputy secretary -- new secretary, Ashton Carter, has mentioned that Kadena plan is on the table. Does that mean – have you started to review or study the plan yet? And the second question is: The Senate is trying to freeze the budget on construction in Guam. How much impact would you expect if the Congress is to freeze – I mean, Congress is going to freeze the budget for next year?

ADM WILLARD: The first question, as you refer to Kadena, are you referring to Futenma merger with Kadena?

QUESTION: Yes. The senators proposed --

ADM WILLARD: This is something that has been looked at in the past by both countries, I think. And we’re very, very aware of the local area politics in Okinawa and the opposition, frankly, by the local mayors and local communities with regard to any additions to Kadena. And it is an issue that must be studied as part of this entire program, but it is not on the table in terms of recommendation from PACOM at the moment. Whether or not we get back into the issue and have those discussions in the future within the Pentagon or with the leadership on the Hill will remain to be seen. And when we do, I’ll be prepared to have that discussion for sure.

In terms of the consequences on either side – on Japan’s side or on the U.S. side – with regard to forestalling resources that would enable the Okinawa-to-Guam move, it serves to delay the process. So both sides – I mean, when we think about it, the original target date for the Futenma or for DPRI to have enabled this move of Marines to Guam was 2014. We’re about to enter 2012, and there have been discussions, delays, and – for a variety of reasons on both sides to date. So what has certainly impacted is that timeline. And whether or not both Japan and the United States can remain committed, as they have to, to make all 19 parts of the review initiative effective will remain to be seen.

QUESTION: Dan de Luce, AFP. Admiral, could you speak a little bit about how you see relations and diplomacy developing in South Asia? And I’m thinking of China’s approach towards Pakistan. Do you see relations between – security relations between those two countries expanding?

ADM WILLARD: Certainly the relationship between China-Pakistan is very pronounced. They have a very strong government-to-government as well as military-to-military relationship, have had for a long time. And certainly, it counts in the overall security dynamic within South Asia, which as we all know, is very complex, given India’s neighborhood and long history with Pakistan, the Kashmir issue; the contested border between India-China along the northern reaches – frontiers of India; Afghanistan; Central Asian states; and the overall dynamics of the region. So, we certainly pay attention to and understand the relationship between China-Pakistan. One thing I think that we should account for is the inherent convergence and interest by all nations and that is a stable Pakistan and a favorable outcome and ultimately stability in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and security in and around India.

I think China recognizes, just as the U.S. does, the importance of an outcome in all of this where Pakistan is – winds up a very stable and peaceful state, and Afghanistan, Pakistan, India relations continue to be stable and managed. So I think China’s interests and U.S. interests in the region, while we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this, are inherently convergent and desire a stable South Asia.

QUESTION: Admiral, my name is Fengfeng Wang from Xinhua News Agency. You talked about after the arms – the upgrade to Taiwan F-16s. You talked about you believe China will retain high-level consultations with the U.S. military. Is the U.S. side doing anything to encourage them to this?

ADM WILLARD: Yes. In our dialogue I think both sides continue to discuss consequences of disagreements between our two governments and the need to focus on the areas of convergence between China and the United States, of which there are many. Taiwan arms sales is not the only area of disagreement that we have, and it’s important that we have open and frank discussions about those disagreements, but at the same time, focus on areas in which the two sides can continue to advance their relationship. I’m hopeful, and I expect, that China recognizes the need to maintain a strategic level discussions, at the very least, that these two nations have embarked on. There are too many important security issues dealing with the Asia Pacific region and dealing with the world to allow any single disagreement between governments to stop consultations altogether. And I’m very hopeful that Chinese leadership recognizes that.

MODERATOR: Yeah, here.

QUESTION: Thank you Admiral for doing this. John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. A quick follow-up to a question asked earlier about Taiwan arms sales. Admiral, do you think that the recent decision to retrofit Taiwan’s F-16 A/Bs would be sufficient to rebalance the airpower across the Taiwan Strait? But does Taiwan still need F-16 C/Ds to help defend itself? Thank you so much.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. I think for the time being, the upgrade of F-16 A/Bs is exactly the right next step to refurbish Taiwan’s air force. I think it’s important to recognize that Taiwan’s arms sales in and unto themselves are not going to rebalance the cross-Strait elements of combat power. Again, when we look at the combat power from ballistic missiles to integrated air-missile defenses to fighter aircraft and much more that exist across strait, Taiwan arms sales are not going to ever achieve that -- a balance or rebalance of that. They are intended to provide defense articles and services so that Taiwan has an inherent ability to defend itself. And I think the A/B upgrade is precisely what was required within their air forces and remember that Taiwan arms sales also contains other elements of defense articles and services that will provide help to Taiwan across the board in terms of their military defense capability.

QUESTION: [Lalit Jha, Press Trust of India] Thank you Admiral and welcome to the Foreign Press Center.

ADM WILLARD: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of where India is placed in the scheme of things in the Pacific and what kind of relations you are having now with them?

ADM WILLARD: In terms of the Pacific in general?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah. My relationship with the Indian military is very strong and growing stronger. If you remember the relationship between our two nations, it was, I would offer, weak in the Cold War period. And while it began to be – become more pronounced in the 1990s, it was again – the relations were by and large severed after the nuclear weapon tests by both India, Pakistan. And we renewed engagement with India in about 2002. On the military side we renewed military to military relations in 2004 when I was the 7th Fleet Commander, so I was having opportunities to engage with India’s navy at that time.

Ever since then, so only for six or seven years, we’ve been working very hard to improve relations. And I think there is – there’s a lot to overcome in terms of our lack of acquaintance with one another. Just understanding how we work organization to organization has been an important part of the relationship-building. But right now, all of our services engage at a pretty robust pace with the Indian armed forces. We’re exchanging on issues ranging from extremism, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency to maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.

So there is a very robust engagement with India. I think President Obama’s visit and the visit of our cabinet members and many leaders within the United States to India, and vice versa, have been a good illustration of that.

QUESTION: Thanks, Admiral. Mi Jeong Hibbits from the Voice of America. I’d like to ask a couple of questions on Korean Peninsula. It’s been about a year since Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s – Kim Jong-il’s son became officially the heir or successor to North Korea. As the first anniversary approaching, I wonder whether you’ve seen any signs of North Korea’s emboldening military posture.

And I would like to also ask your comment on possible sales of a Global Hawk to South Korea. And if there is any hurdle for proceeding the sale on U.S. side, what would that be?

ADM WILLARD: First, on the succession issue, a very important issue that I think we all continue to pay attention to, because in the past, succession has come with provocation as the new leadership has attempted to establish their bona fides with the North Korean military. And we think that in 2010, when we saw a series of provocations from the North Koreans, that the succession was a factor in that. So Kim Jong-un’s prominence inside those dynamics of two very deadly provocations is – was not lost on us, and the prospects that he could be somehow accountable in a next provocation is important to understand as well.

As you suggest, it’s been about a year since it became known that he was indeed earmarked as successor. I’m not sure that North Korea has officially named him. He’s certainly been promoted in the ensuing period of time, and he has been seen and grown more prominent in the activities in the North, so there is every expectation that he is the named successor.

So around that, I think Kim Jong-il’s health is something that has to be paid attention to, because that will determine a great deal in terms of timing. And again, the dynamics surrounding succession, and most importantly, the prospect of continued provocations, is another dynamic that we must pay very close attention to. So we watch North Korea closely, as you would expect us to. We try to determine the succession dynamics that are ongoing, especially as we approach 2012, which the North Koreans have declared as an auspicious year for themselves and what that may portend in terms of Kim Jong-un’s leadership position.

Your second question, once again?

QUESTION: The possible sales of a Global Hawk to South Korea?

ADM WILLARD: Yeah. There are many discussions between ourselves and South Korea regarding their capabilities and the potential for U.S. procurement of defense articles that can service their needs. And there are discussions ongoing with regard to surveillance capabilities in the South, and I think the United States, as you know, is very guarded about these high-tech capabilities being provided as defense articles. So that discussion is, in fact, occurring.

That said, when you consider the strength of the alliance between the United States and North Korea, the fact that we have 30,000 troops in the Republic of Korea and we are very, very closely aligned with the Koreans in terms of all our military capabilities, the prospects that our highly technical capabilities could ultimately be part of a foreign military sale is a consideration.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to break away and take a question from New York. Please go ahead, New York.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Yusuke Murayama, Asahi Shimbun. I have two questions. U.S. and Australia recently announced attack as kind of a trigger of military alliance or joint response. So do you have any plans to extend same conditions to other treaty allies like Japan or Korea?

And secondary, you just mentioned arms sales to Taiwan. Does not – we’re not going to (inaudible) powers. So at the same time, DOD has been saying that military balance is shifting in favor of China. So I’m simply wondering, (inaudible) today, so which side is (inaudible) – I mean, China is already stronger than Taiwan as of today. Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Thanks. I have a question regarding your question on Australia, just – you mentioned the – an agreement between the U.S. and Australia concerning – would you clarify again what it is that you’re asking?

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

ADM WILLARD: Could be it extended to Japan and Korea as well?

QUESTION: I mean what – my question is – to negotiate to have same condition with Japan or Korea.

ADM WILLARD: They’re all treaty allies. Is it in a particular capability area that you’re asking?

QUESTION: I’m not – I’m sorry. U.S. has agreed with Australia about the cyber attack, with their kind of trigger of treaty. And my question is: Is U.S. going to negotiate with Japan to have same kind of conditions with U.S. – under U.S.-Japan alliance? [The journalist’s question was “The U.S. and Australia have recently announced that a cyber attack would trigger a joint response by the U.S. – Australia military alliance. Do you have any plans to extend same conditions to other treaty allies like Japan or Korea.”?]

ADM WILLARD: I see. Okay. So you’re talking specifically cyberspace and cyber defense. The answer is that with all our allies we’re carrying on those discussions. And certainly, they have been a topic of discussion with our Australian friends, where all of our nations are concerned with the cyber exploitations that have been ongoing and very persistent over the last several years. We’re all concerned about it. We are having discussions about how to be more cooperative in that particular area. I think it’s a very, very important subject that our allies and the United States do, in fact, both align in and cooperate in, to the maximum extent that we’re capable.

MODERATOR: Okay. We have time for one final question. We’ll come right here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral, for doing this. My name is Kyoko Yamaguchi from Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, and my question is about Russia. Russian militaries have been increasing activity around the waters around Japan. They had 24 vessels crossing (inaudible) Strait and some other (inaudible) flying around Japan. And I think Japanese Government have expressed concerns, and I think they called it provocative. I’m wondering if you share this kind of concern, and also if you could share your thoughts on why they – what may be motivating Russian army to do this kind of enhancement. Thank you.

ADM WILLARD: Yeah. Thank you. It’s a very good question. General Ariki, the chief of defense of Japan, and I have discussed Russia’s military activities in – north of Japan. And I think when we say what’s the rationale behind it, there has been an attempted reemergence of the Russian military capabilities over many years since they diminished so greatly in the early 1990s. And we’ve seen some strategic flight activities; we’ve seen some longer excursions by their maritime vessels and the attempts to put their submarine fleet back to sea.

So they’re – it’s not just centered around Japan, but rather, I think the Russian Pacific forces are endeavoring to reinvent themselves a bit since the very dramatic decline in Russian military capability. And I think there has been a commitment on the part of Moscow to try and refurbish and reinvigorate the armed forces.

I would offer that there are military-to-military exchanges that occur between Japan and Russia at times and the United States and Russia. I was in Mongolia about a week and a half ago, and the Russian general staff was represented there as well, a Russian three-star general that I’m acquainted with, and we had good discussions while we were there.

So ideally, we would continue to grow the relationship between the United States and Russia and hopefully Japan and Russia to see Russia, as their military does reemerge, emerge as a constructive partner in the region. I think the concerns have been the lack of accounting for the reasons that the Russians have executed the flights and have expressed the interest in the Northern Islands regions and some other concerns that Japan has. And frankly, we’re not carrying on the kind of dialogue that I think would inform these operations better than they’ve been understood in the past.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what did the Russian general tell you about this kind of activity?

ADM WILLARD: Yeah. I – well, I think in general, he – we didn’t discuss the Japan activity specifically, but in discussing our relationship, he was very interested in advancing it, in fact had expressed a verbal invitation for me to visit him in Russia. So the relationships – these relationships are not in any form of crisis; on the contrary. I think all sides are seeking to somehow close the gap that has existed since the diminishment of the Russian armed forces, when in fact we were advancing the relationship at the time pretty well. So thank you. It’s a very good question.

I would wrap with this: The United States Pacific Command remains committed to security and peace in this region. For all the challenges that we’ve discussed, the responsibility that I bear for you and that I bear to my boss, Secretary Panetta, and to the President is to ensure that we’re both aware of the activities that are occurring throughout the Asia Pacific region and that we’re contributing alongside our allies and partners to the overall security of the region. We’ll remain challenged, certainly. As I’ve seen in the course of a 38-year career, the Asia Pacific region is never entirely static. There is always challenges and opportunities that are presenting themselves. Our responsibility is to leverage the opportunities and to face up to the challenges, and we’ll continue to do that.

Thanks very much for the opportunity to be here today.

MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.

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