WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2011 — The latest round of defense talks between the United States and China was “very constructive,” the Defense Department’s policy chief said.
Michï¿½le Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters in Beijing yesterday that her Dec. 7 meetings with People’s Liberation Army Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the general staff, included discussions about the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and North Africa.
“We also discussed our continued work together in counterpiracy and humanitarian assistance, nonproliferation and transparency between our two countries,” Flournoy said.
Flournoy said a series of high-level meetings held over the last year involving both nations’ presidents and senior defense officials focused on “supporting positive, cooperative and comprehensive relations between the United States and China.”
The Pentagon’s policy chief also said she and Ma agree their countries share mutual goals. “We have the common goal of preserving peace and stability in Asia — now and in the future — and that we must cooperate on issues that will impact both of our countries,” she said.
Flournoy said she assured Ma the recently announced rotational deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia is not directed at China, but is about strengthening mutual capabilities with an “incredibly steadfast ally.”
“The U.S. does not seek to contain China; we do not view China as an adversary,” Flournoy said. “[I explained] that these posture changes were first and foremost about strengthening our alliance with Australia.”
The broader U.S. policy, she added, is “to continue to invest in our alliance with Australia, to build the interoperability between our two forces, but also to contribute to the stability of the region and reassuring partners in the region.”
Talks in Beijing also focused on Taiwan and the South China Sea, she said, acknowledging that “no new ground” was broken. The U.S. position on the South China Sea is not to take sides in disputes between countries over the territories or resources, but to remain committed to seeing those disputes resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, Flournoy explained.
Regarding Taiwan, Flournoy said she explained to her Chinese hosts that the United States believes providing defense capabilities and support to Taiwan for their self-defense actually puts them in a position where they can feel comfortable coming to the negotiating table.
“We welcome the reduction of tensions across the straits,” she continued, “and we encouraged further steps to be taken to further reduce those tensions.”
Flournoy added, “We had a good exchange of views and I think both sides understood each other well.”
Though this week’s discussions did not focus on Japan or the Philippines, Flournoy said told the Chinese that, “our posture changes in Australia will not affect our posture in Northeast Asia, and that our forces that are committed to the defense of Japan will remain there.”
The under secretary said the two sides also exchanged views on the Middle East situation in the wake of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East.
“We … emphasized that we see this as an opportunity to align longstanding U.S. interests in the region with support for universal values,” Flournoy said. “We do believe that we need to work with other countries to reduce some of the risks that are attendant to this kind of rapid change, such as the risk of violent extremists gaining influence in some of these countries.”
The talks resulted in an agreement between the two nations to continue engagements in the coming year, Flournoy said.
“We hope that that will include a number of high level visits as well as a number of joint exercises in areas such as humanitarian assistance and counterpiracy,” she added. “We do envision those activities going forward in 2012.”
She noted the Chinese have been “very active” in counterpiracy operations.
“They’ve escorted not only a number of Chinese ships in the Gulf of Aden area, but also a number of non-Chinese ships, including some of the World Food Program shipments to Somalia,” Flournoy said. “So this is a very positive area of engagement for them, … and it’s an area that we would like to share best practices and lessons learned, so it’s a good area for exercises.”
Flournoy said she also reassured the Chinese that routine U.S. military operations in the Pacific are just that.
“We conduct these operations globally, literally in every region of the world, including near the coastlines of friends and allies,” she said. “It’s a critical part of creating situational awareness for a force that’s globally deployed. And it’s routine, and as I said, conducted globally and in many other parts of the world.”
Flournoy said she and Ma also discussed Pakistan.
“We both have an interest in Pakistan’s stability, in its development and prosperity, and in its security,” she said. “We talked about ways in which each of us could help Pakistan deal with some of the challenges it faces, including violent extremism inside its own borders.”
Flournoy said she told Ma U.S. leaders have expressed condolences to the Pakistani government and the military and the families for the “tragic events” that occurred on the border when a cross-border attack left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. She explained to Ma, she told reporters, that the incident is being investigated and the United States will share results with Pakistan.
“We are still figuring out exactly what happened, and we should not prejudge the situation until we get to the truth of the facts,” Flournoy added. “But in any case, this is a very tragic set of losses for them, and we very much extend our condolences to them.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)