Flournoy Reinforces U.S. Commitment to Asia, Pacific

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2010 — The Unit­ed States is a Pacif­ic pow­er and will remain com­mit­ted to secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty in Asia, Michele Flournoy, the under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy, said.
Asia is a strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant area to the Unit­ed States in terms of eco­nom­ic pros­per­i­ty and Amer­i­can growth over time, Flournoy said dur­ing a Nov. 19 inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

“We think as we look out over the 21st cen­tu­ry, Asia will be increas­ing­ly impor­tant and cen­tral to our for­eign pol­i­cy,” she said. 

There are a num­ber of unre­solved ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes in Asia -– par­tic­u­lar­ly in the South Chi­na Sea. “We don’t take any sides in those dis­putes,” she said, “but what we have done is be very clear that we want to see those dis­putes resolved peace­ful­ly and in accor­dance with inter­na­tion­al law.” 

Last month, Japan­ese and Chi­nese ships had a con­fronta­tion over the Shenkaku Islands. “That’s exact­ly the kind of sit­u­a­tion we’re try­ing to avoid,” Flournoy said. Those sit­u­a­tions, she added, are dan­ger­ous for the par­ties con­cerned because of the chances of miscalculation. 

Over­all, the Unit­ed States has good mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions with the Asian nations, Flournoy said. Amer­i­ca has built on close treaty rela­tion­ships with Japan, South Korea, the Philip­pines and Thai­land to expand the net­work of secu­ri­ty in the region. The Unit­ed States is strength­en­ing rela­tion­ships with the nations of the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations, and it also is seek­ing to build rela­tion­ships with China. 

The Unit­ed States would like to have a mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship with Chi­na that is as com­pre­hen­sive and col­lab­o­ra­tive as the coun­tries’ have on diplo­mat­ic and eco­nom­ic issues, Flournoy said. Mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions have instead gone on and off, as if they were con­trolled by a dim­mer switch, she said. 

“We have a fair­ly pos­i­tive dia­logue going on at the strate­gic lev­el,” she said. “The Chi­nese have used the mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship more as a rheo­stat. It’s on when every­thing is hap­py. When we make a defen­sive arms sale to Tai­wan, for exam­ple, the rheo­stat is turned down. Or if the pres­i­dent receives the Dalai Lama in the White House, the rheo­stat is turned down.” 

But the Chi­nese now are ready to return to mil­i­tary dis­cus­sions with the Unit­ed States, Flournoy said, not­ing U.S. and Chi­nese offi­cials sat down in Hawaii to dis­cuss mar­itime secu­ri­ty and safe­ty issues. The under­sec­re­tary said she was pleased with those discussions. 

“I’m going to be wel­com­ing my coun­ter­part in Decem­ber –- Gen­er­al Ma Xiaot­ian –- to Wash­ing­ton and we’ll have a very com­pre­hen­sive and, we hope, can­did and pro­duc­tive set on talks on defense pol­i­cy,” Flournoy said. 

The talks, she said, will pave the way for Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ trip to Chi­na ear­ly next year. The talks also are seen as a con­duit for a full cal­en­dar of U.S.-Chinese mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary exchanges and exer­cis­es in 2011. 

U.S. offi­cials want to sep­a­rate the U.S.-China mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship from the ups and downs of pol­i­cy agree­ments and disagreements. 

“Trans­paren­cy and dia­logue and de-con­flic­tion and shar­ing of infor­ma­tion are so impor­tant, giv­en that we both are out in the world oper­at­ing in Asia,” Flournoy said. “We want to make sure that we are in dia­logue, avoid­ing any pos­si­bil­i­ty of mis­cal­cu­la­tion, pro­vid­ing greater trans­paren­cy so there isn’t mis­un­der­stand­ing about what one or the oth­er is doing.” Flournoy wants the talks next month to be con­sis­tent, con­tin­u­ing, and can­did. She also wants the rela­tion­ship to be strong enough that if there are dif­fer­ences, then the nations’ lead­ers can talk about them. 

She said the Unit­ed States would base suc­cess in the talks on the degree of can­dor and the qual­i­ty of the discussions. 

“We’re going to talk about some dif­fi­cult and con­tentious issues, but we’re also going to talk about issues that real­ly have great poten­tial for coop­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion,” Flournoy said. “So it will be inter­est­ing to see if they are will­ing to depart from the script and engage in a good exchange in areas where we might share interests.” 

Trans­paren­cy is the key word in the U.S.-China mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship, she said. 

“Chi­na does not pub­lish the defense bud­get the way we do,” she said. “They don’t have peo­ple tes­ti­fy­ing open­ly to explain that bud­get and explain their pro­gram. So we have a lot of guess work to do to try and under­stand what their mil­i­tary is doing and what kind of capa­bil­i­ties they are devel­op­ing for the future.” 

DOD offi­cials have asked the Chi­nese for brief­in­gs on their strat­e­gy and doc­trine and their plans for the future. “That’s the first time we’ve had that top­ic on the agen­da and we are look­ing for­ward very much to what they have to say,” Flournoy said. 

India is the sec­ond-most pop­u­lat­ed nation in the world after Chi­na and a nat­ur­al ally to the Unit­ed States, the under­sec­re­tary said. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has just com­plet­ed a vis­it to India, and Flournoy said the state of the defense rela­tion­ship with India is “very pos­i­tive and very strong and get­ting stronger.” 

The Indi­ans, she said, want to coop­er­ate with the Unit­ed States. The Indi­an mil­i­tary fre­quent­ly con­ducts exer­cis­es with the Unit­ed States and there is a vital exchange pro­gram between the two nations. 

“We’re try­ing to move into areas where we can be more coop­er­a­tive oper­a­tional­ly — like mar­itime secu­ri­ty or human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief,” Flournoy said. “They have a lot of capa­bil­i­ty and a lot of well-trained peo­ple and they are great part­ners. We are look­ing to grow that rela­tion­ship over time.” 

North Korea is the great dis­turber of the peace in Asia, and U.S. offi­cials at all lev­els are con­cerned about what is hap­pen­ing there, Flournoy said. North Korea’s nuclear pro­gram, pro­lif­er­a­tion his­to­ry and acts such as the sink­ing of the South Kore­an ship Cheo­nan com­bine to iso­late the nation. 

“North Korea is on a very neg­a­tive path towards greater and greater iso­la­tion and depri­va­tion of their peo­ple, and they have some choic­es to make to get off that path and on anoth­er,” she said. 

Mean­while, Flournoy said, the Unit­ed States is work­ing with South Korea, Japan, Chi­na and Rus­sia to influ­ence the North Kore­an regime to take a less-dis­rup­tive path. 

The Unit­ed States has been a Pacif­ic pow­er almost since its birth, she said. 

“There is no region that dri­ves our eco­nom­ic health and pros­per­i­ty like Asia,” Flournoy said. “His­tor­i­cal­ly, the Unit­ed States has played the role of region­al sta­bi­liz­er. It’s our pres­ence that in large part pro­vides the sta­bil­i­ty and reas­sur­ance to the coun­tries of the region so that eco­nom­ic dynamism can continue.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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