BEIJING, April 9, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took the stage here today, addressing military officers and students who crowded into the auditorium at the Peoples’ Liberation Army National Defense University to hear him describe China’s status as a major power and its obligation to address security challenges for the good of the region.
Hagel thanked President Xi Jinping, Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Gen. Fan Changlong, his friend State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and his host Gen. Chang Wanquan for their gracious hospitality during his visit.
“We have had wide-ranging and constructive discussions that reflect our growing cooperation,” Hagel said.
During a meeting today with Fan, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said, Hagel expressed his appreciation for the chance to build toward a new model of military-to-military relations.
The leaders shared a frank exchange of views about issues important to the United States, China and the Asia-Pacific region. They discussed regional security, including the East China and South China seas, where Hagel reaffirmed the United States’ longstanding policies and commitments, and encouraged all parties to resolve differences peacefully, through diplomacy and in keeping with international law, Kirby said.
Hagel also discussed with Fan the growing threat posed by North Korean nuclear and missile developments, and urged China’s continued cooperation with the international community to achieve a complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
“Today,” Hagel said, “China’s status as a major power is already solidified, built on its growing economic ties across the globe and particularly across the Asia-Pacific region.”
Last year, he added, the trade in goods and services between the United States and China exceeded half a trillion dollars. Trade between Association of Southeast Asian Nations members and China exceeded $400 billion last year, and a third of the world’s trade passes through the South China Sea.
China’s growth, coupled with the dynamism of the Asia-Pacific and America’s increasing engagement in the region, offers a historic and strategic opportunity for all nations, the secretary added.
“As our economic interdependence grows, we have an opportunity to expand the prosperity this region has enjoyed for decades,” Hagel explained. “To preserve the stable regional security environment that has enabled this historic economic expansion, the United States and China have a responsibility to address new and enduring regional security challenges alongside other partners.”
The region faces North Korea’s continued dangerous provocations, its nuclear program and missile tests, Hagel said, along with ongoing land and maritime disputes, threats arising from climate change, natural disasters and pandemic disease, proliferation of dangerous weapons, and the growing threat of disruption in space and cyberspace.
The Asia-Pacific region is the most militarized in the world, and any one of these challenges could lead to conflict, the secretary added.
“As the PLA modernizes its capabilities and expands its presence in Asia and beyond,” he said, “American and Chinese forces will be drawn into proximity, increasing the risk of an incident, accident or miscalculation. But this reality also presents new opportunities for cooperation.”
All people in the region want a future of peace and stability, Hagel added, and the costs of conflict will rise as economic interdependence grows.
“The high cost of conflict will not make peace and stability inevitable,” the secretary added, “so we must work together and in partnership with all the nations of the region, and develop and build on what President Xi and President Obama have called a new model of relations.”
The model seeks to seize opportunities for cooperation between the United States and China and enhance peace and security throughout the region, he added.
“It seeks to manage competition but avoid the traps of rivalry,” Hagel said. “And good China-U.S. relations will not come at the expense of our relations with others in the region or elsewhere.”
Realizing this vision will require commitment, effort and some new thinking for the United States and China across all dimensions of the relationship, but especially between the militaries, he added.
“Developing a new model of military-to-military relations will require a shared understanding of the regional security order we seek and the responsibilities we have to uphold it,” Hagel said. “It will require bold leadership that seeks to deepen practical cooperation in areas of shared interest, while constructively managing differences through open dialogue and candor.”
In the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide, Hagel said, the United States believes in maintaining a stable, rules-based order built on:
— Free and open access to sea lanes, air space and cyberspace;
— Liberal trade and economic policies that foster widely shared prosperity for all people;
— Halting the proliferation of dangerous and destabilizing weapons of mass destruction;
— Deterring aggression; and
— Clear, predictable, consistent and peaceful methods of resolving disputes consistent with international law.
For its part, the secretary said, the United States has helped to provide access to global markets, technology and capital, underwritten the free flow of energy and natural resources through open seas, and maintained alliances that have helped keep the peace.
“We haven’t done it alone; we’ve done it with partners,” he said. “America’s rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific is about ensuring that America’s presence and engagement, including our relationship with China, keeps pace with the Asia-Pacific’s rapidly evolving economic, diplomatic and security environment.”
All nations have a responsibility to pursue common interests with their neighbors and settle disputes peacefully in accordance with international law and recognized norms, the secretary added.
“But as a nation’s power and prosperity grows, so does its responsibilities,” Hagel said. “And whether the 21st century is one marked by progress, security and prosperity will depend greatly on how China and other leading Asia-Pacific powers meet their responsibilities to uphold a rules-based order.”
Disputes in the South China and East China seas must be resolved through international norms and laws, he said.
“The United States has been clear about the East and South China Sea disputes,” Hagel said. “We do not take a position on sovereignty claims but we expect these disputes to be managed and resolved peacefully and diplomatically, and oppose the use of force or coercion. And our commitment to allies in the region is unwavering.”
The secretary said he believes the new model of military-to-military relations should proceed on three tracks: First, maintaining sustained and substantive dialogue; second, forging concrete, practical cooperation where the two countries’ interests converge; and third, working to manage competition and differences through openness and communication.
The foundation for military-to-military cooperation between the United States and China must be a sustained and substantive dialogue, Hagel said. The engine for this dialogue has been high-level exchanges, he added, and it must continue and increase. This, in particular, has been an area of notable progress, he said.
“Bilateral exchanges and visits are planned, and earlier today General Chang and I agreed on two important new mechanisms,” Hagel said. We will establish a high-level Asia-Pacific security dialogue, and we will create an army-to-army dialogue. These will deepen substantive military discussions and institutional understanding.”
Already, he said, the two nations have identified nontraditional security missions as areas of clear mutual interest, including counterpiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, military medicine, and maritime safety.
Hagel said one example of practical cooperation in areas where the United States and China can do more is the annual disaster management exchange held between militaries, and with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Last November’s exchange, held in Hawaii, included the first exercise involving PLA troops on U.S. soil.
The United States has taken significant steps to be more open with China about its capabilities, intentions and disagreements, the secretary said. “And we will continue to welcome initiatives by China to do the same, particularly as China undertakes significant military modernization efforts,” he added.
Hagel said he and others are asking China to work more closely with the United States and regional partners on another shared challenge where there is a disagreement: responding to the dangerous destabilizing behavior of North Korea.
The North Korean regime’s nuclear program and its recent missile launches in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions pose a continued and stark challenge and threat to the U.S. homeland, Hagel said. America will continue to respond to North Korea’s actions by reinforcing its allies and increasing deterrence, he added, including through his announcement this week that the United States will deploy two additional ballistic missile defense ships to Japan.
This builds on other steps to bolster regional missile defense, the secretary said, including building a second radar site in Japan and expanding ground-based interceptors in Alaska.