Mullen Cites Importance of U.S.-China Relationship

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)

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