WASHINGTON, July 11, 2011 — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yesterday completed the first full day of a visit to China.
Mullen is there at the invitation of Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff for the Chinese army, who visited the United States in May.
Mullen’s activities included two “firsts” for a Western military leader, his staff was told: delivering a speech at Renmin University in Beijing, and viewing a CSS‑7 short range ballistic missile on a mobile launcher at the 2nd Artillery headquarters.
During a media roundtable discussion later in the day, the chairman said both he and Chen have worked to strengthen the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China.
“I really believe, and have for a long time, that relationships are absolutely vital,” the chairman said. “I see that in other places, but I can’t think of another place where there’s more to be done, and more to be gained, than between the United States and China.”
Chen’s visit to the United States in May resulted in good progress, both increasing understanding and advancing the two nations’ common interests, Mullen said.
“From my perspective, that’s where the focus needs to stay — on the things that matter the most to us globally and in the region, which include security, stability and prosperity,” he said.
China and the United States are both Pacific powers and will remain so “for a long, long time,” Mullen said.
“We need to … approach this relationship as two leaders, with all the responsibility that implies,” he said. “And frankly, I think we need to work a lot harder on strategic trust and transparency.”
Even when difficult issues arise, Mullen said, the global challenges the two nations face together are “too vital and too vast” to allow obstacles hindering better understanding.
“I want to try to focus, while I’m here, on a posture of mutual respect, on an ability to think and look at issues locally as well as globally, and hopefully be able to look to the future and not just look at the past,” he said.
“The potential for a positive outcome in a crisis is much higher if we have a relationship than if we don’t,” the chairman added.
Responding to reporters’ questions, Mullen said that despite a decade spent heavily engaged in wars in Iraq and then Afghanistan, the United States has never lost focus on the Pacific or Asia.
“I don’t think we ever will,” he added. “The United States has an enduring relationship with many countries in this part of the world.”
The region is a key part of the growing global economic engine that drives the world, the chairman said, and peace and stability are critical to its continued functioning.
Those who believe the United States has been overly involved in war or has embarked on a path of decline, he said, are “just dead wrong.”
“In the history of the United States, there have been those who have claimed that before, and who likewise have had it exactly wrong,” the admiral said.
The United States and China have experienced “some challenges between us” over the past 10 years, Mullen said, and visits such as his and Chen’s send a “positive, strong signal.”
“These are opportunities to … be clear about what our priorities are, what we agree on and what we disagree on,” he said.
Mullen cited counterpiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and future joint military exercises as fruitful areas the two nations have discussed.
It’s also important, Mullen said, to focus on issues such as “reconnaissance operations [and] how we see Taiwan … as well as the challenges that exist in the South China Sea.”
Both nations are concerned, he said, over North Korea’s evolving capabilities and acts such as the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, and the November 2010 shelling of Yeongpyeong Island.
“The last thing in the world we want to see happen is … the tremendous instability that could result from miscalculation on the peninsula,” he said.
Recognizing that North Korea is a sovereign country with choices to make, Mullen said, he credits China’s leaders with maintaining and exercising a strong relationship with that nation.
“Continuing to do that as they have in the past, I think, is really important,” he said.
Global powers are obligated to stay engaged and promote the stability that will underwrite prosperity in the future, the admiral said.
The percentage of gross domestic product China and other countries in the region spend on defense has increased dramatically over the last 10 years or so, Mullen said.
In light of that spending, the admiral said, he seeks to understand China’s strategic intent.
“I … have heard [the Chinese] talk about being just defensive in capability, but I also have seen a focus on a wider range of … capabilities, with an increasing posture in the region and, quite frankly, globally,” he said.
Some “very specific” military capabilities China is developing are focused on U.S. capabilities, Mullen said.
“I would just reassert that the United States has an enduring relationship here with many countries, and has a presence which has been long-standing and will be enduring in the future,” he said. “We feel … that presence and that interaction and those relationships have an awful lot to do with what has been a stable region for a long period of time. Certainly, the strategic intent is to sustain that.”
A rising, peaceful China can benefit the region and the planet, Mullen said, adding that over the past 10 to 20 years China has increased its prosperity and enacted reforms that have changed the nation in “an incredibly positive way.”
“I applaud that,” the admiral said. “That said, … I recognize, again from a distance, that this is a country of 1.3 billion people, and that there are many challenges that remain to continue that prosperity … and expand it to those who haven’t experienced it yet.”
Mullen said China’s military and technological evolution is “quite frankly, fairly natural.”
“All of that technical achievement, headed in a direction that is constructive, is a good thing,” he said. “I’ve seen the focus in China shift from ground forces to maritime in air … so to build a navy, for instance, that protects your own interests, I understand that. That’s what the United States has done for decades, if not … from inception.”
His view of China’s growing military night, Mullen said, depends on how it’s used.
Mullen’s agenda for today included a full honors ceremony officially welcoming him to Beijing, followed by a private meeting with Chen and a larger staff discussion about regional security issues. Those discussions will wrap up with a joint news conference.
The afternoon will see the chairman visiting the Chinese navy’s headquarters, where he will meet with Navy Chief Adm. Wu Shengli. Other planned events include meetings with Gen. Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Central Military Committee; Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie; and Vice President Xi Jinping.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)