Gates Arrives in Vietnam for Bilateral Meetings, Conference

HANOI, Viet­nam, Oct. 10, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates arrived here today to meet indi­vid­u­al­ly with Viet­namese lead­ers and some of his coun­ter­parts in the region and to par­tic­i­pate in the first “plus” con­fer­ence of defense min­is­ters of the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations.

Dur­ing his vis­it, Gates also will speak at Viet­nam Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty.

Viet­namese Defense Min­is­ter Lt. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh invit­ed Gates to the inau­gur­al ASEAN Plus con­fer­ence in June while both were attend­ing the annu­al “Shangri-La Dia­logue” region­al secu­ri­ty con­fer­ence in Sin­ga­pore.

Gates will have bilat­er­al meet­ings tomor­row with his coun­ter­parts from Viet­nam, Japan, the Philip­pines and Chi­na. He’ll also meet infor­mal­ly with Aus­tralian Defense Min­is­ter Stephen F. Smith.

The meet­ing with Gen. Liang Guan­glie – one of three Gates coun­ter­parts in the Chi­nese mil­i­tary struc­ture — marks a break­through in the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the two pow­ers, which Chi­na put on hold ear­ly this year over U.S. mil­i­tary sales to Tai­wan and oth­er issues.

“We look for­ward to what we hope will be a very con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion that will help us to move for­ward as we work to re-estab­lish a sta­ble and reli­able mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na,” a senior defense offi­cial told reporters trav­el­ing with Gates.

Gates has said on numer­ous occa­sions that such a rela­tion­ship and an ongo­ing mil­i­tary secu­ri­ty dia­logue are in both coun­tries’ best inter­ests, the offi­cial added.

The secretary’s meet­ing with Thanh and a sub­se­quent meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Nguyen Tan Dung, anoth­er senior defense offi­cial said, will under­score the long-term U.S. com­mit­ment to a strong bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship with Viet­nam, which he called “a very impor­tant coun­try in the region.”

“We hope that we will be able to advance our defense ties with Viet­nam, and we hope to estab­lish a broad­er set of more prac­ti­cal coop­er­a­tion activ­i­ties with the Viet­namese mil­i­tary and defense estab­lish­ment,” he said.

This will be the fourth meet­ing between Gates and Thanh over the last year and a half, the offi­cial not­ed, a peri­od he said has been marked by con­sid­er­able progress.

“This vis­it com­ing dur­ing the year of the 15th anniver­sary of nor­mal­iza­tion of rela­tions [between the Unit­ed States and Viet­nam] is espe­cial­ly impor­tant,” he said, “and also com­ing after the first-ever bilat­er­al pol­i­cy dia­logue with the Viet­namese – where we talked about a range of glob­al, region­al and bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty issues – real­ly does ele­vate the rela­tion­ship to a new lev­el in our bilat­er­al ties.”

The dis­cus­sion between Gates and Thanh is expect­ed to touch on con­tin­u­ing dia­logues and build­ing coop­er­a­tion in such areas as peace­keep­ing, mar­itime secu­ri­ty, human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief, the offi­cial said.

Gates’ meet­ing with Philip­pine Defense Min­is­ter Voltaire Gazmin, the offi­cial said, will be a chance to dis­cuss the two nations’ long­stand­ing alliance and ways to con­tin­ue and expand coop­er­a­tion. Top­ics also may include ter­ror­ism in the south­ern Philip­pines, defense reform, mar­itime secu­ri­ty and oth­er region­al secu­ri­ty issues, he added.

The infor­mal meet­ing with Smith – who had been Australia’s for­eign min­is­ter when the two men last met and has been on the job as defense min­is­ter for about two months – will give Gates a brief oppor­tu­ni­ty to touch base on impor­tant issues affect­ing the two nations, the offi­cial said.

“Obvi­ous­ly, Aus­tralia has a large com­mit­ment to Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the two defense lead­ers prob­a­bly also will dis­cuss details of upcom­ing min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ings in Aus­tralia.

Not­ing the “strength and vital­i­ty” of the alliance between the Unit­ed States and Japan, a senior offi­cial said the bilat­er­al meet­ing between Gates and Japan­ese Defense Min­is­ter Toshi­mi Kitaza­wa will reflect Japan’s role as a cor­ner­stone of U.S. secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy in the region as the defense lead­ers dis­cuss areas of mutu­al inter­est, includ­ing North Korea’s effect on region­al secu­ri­ty.

Gates has made a point, both pub­licly and pri­vate­ly, of char­ac­ter­iz­ing the inau­gur­al ASEAN Plus con­fer­ence as “an incred­i­bly valu­able forum,” and has been look­ing for­ward to attend­ing, the offi­cial told reporters. ASEAN’s defense min­is­ters decid­ed last year to involve their coun­ter­parts from oth­er key nations in “a broad­er region­al dia­logue to build pat­terns of coop­er­a­tion, mutu­al trust and respect, and real­ly get to some con­crete coop­er­a­tive activ­i­ties build­ing everybody’s abil­i­ty to deal with region­al secu­ri­ty issues,” he said.

“We’re hop­ing to get a lot of good dis­cus­sion on the range of region­al secu­ri­ty issues, broad­en com­mu­ni­ca­tion among all of these key nations, and try to fig­ure out how we can build mul­ti­lat­er­al capac­i­ty to address some of these big chal­lenges,” he added.

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

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