Mullen Cites Strategic Importance of China‑U.S. Relationship

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2011 — Build­ing a strong U.S.-China rela­tion­ship is impor­tant from a nation­al secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy per­spec­tive, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
At a For­eign Press Cen­ter brief­ing here, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said his thoughts on Chi­na, which he called “an emerg­ing glob­al influ­ence,” have gone through cycles over time.

“I know they have their own chal­lenges, and … the Chi­nese have every right to devel­op the mil­i­tary that they want, as the Unit­ed States does,” he said. “We devel­op our capa­bil­i­ty to pro­tect our inter­est.”

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates is vis­it­ing Chi­na, Japan and South Korea this week, and sev­er­al for­eign cor­re­spon­dents ques­tioned the chair­man today about U.S. views on China’s mil­i­tary.

“I think his vis­it enhances the [mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary] rela­tion­ship,” Mullen said. “From an over­all strate­gic point of view, I have long … been a believ­er in the strength of the rela­tion­ship of these two coun­tries.”

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao is sched­uled to vis­it the Unit­ed States this month, Mullen not­ed. “We look for­ward to that vis­it,” he said. “We expect it to be a very pos­i­tive vis­it. It does­n’t mean we don’t have chal­lenges. It does­n’t mean we don’t need to address some very dif­fi­cult issues. We do.”

One of those issues is China’s role in main­tain­ing sta­bil­i­ty on the Kore­an penin­su­la, where in recent months North Kore­an acts of aggres­sion have height­ened secu­ri­ty con­cerns for South Korea, Japan and the Unit­ed States as well as Chi­na, Mullen said.

“My mes­sage in the region … is this is an evolv­ing threat, not just to the region but to the Unit­ed States specif­i­cal­ly,” he said. The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty must bring as much pres­sure as it can to deter North Kore­an provo­ca­tions, said he added.

“One of the rea­sons it’s so impor­tant … to come togeth­er on this — Rus­sia, Chi­na, Japan, South Korea and oth­ers – is that the capa­bil­i­ty [North Kore­an leader Kim Jong-il] is devel­op­ing is becom­ing more and more dan­ger­ous,” he said.

While the Unit­ed States and Chi­na need not agree on every­thing, Mullen said, it’s impor­tant they fos­ter a rela­tion­ship in which they can address such issues. The two nations’ “eco­nom­ic engines” share some inter­de­pen­dence, he not­ed.

Chi­na clear­ly has achieved a glob­al reach, in great part based on its eco­nom­ic impact, Mullen told the group.

“Tied to pros­per­i­ty, there needs to be secu­ri­ty. They go hand-in-hand,” he said. “And so hav­ing a strong secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship is equal­ly impor­tant to hav­ing a strong eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ship. I think that’s the rela­tion­ship we are, cer­tain­ly, work­ing toward.”

It’s crit­i­cal for the two nations to renew their mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship, Mullen said, because “there’s a great deal, quite frankly, that we don’t under­stand about each oth­er.”

The demon­stra­tion flight this week of the Chi­nese J‑20 fifth-gen­er­a­tion stealth fight­er “did not come as a sur­prise to me,” Mullen said.

“Chi­na is invest­ing in very high-end, high-tech capa­bil­i­ties,” he said. “The ques­tion that is always out there is to try to under­stand exact­ly why. The opaque­ness of that, tied to our lack of rela­tion­ship, is some­thing I’d like to see if we can crack open.”

Many Chi­nese capa­bil­i­ties, includ­ing stealth air­craft and anti-satel­lite and anti-ship weapons, “seem to be focused very specif­i­cal­ly on the Unit­ed States,” the chair­man said. “So that’s why hav­ing this rela­tion­ship is so impor­tant,” he added.

The chair­man drew a laugh with his answer to a ques­tion about Chi­nese cyber attacks on his Face­book or your Gmail accounts. “I haven’t seen any on my Face­book account,” he said.

But the ques­tion is per­ti­nent, he said, “because it’s an area that has received great focus on the part of the Unit­ed States and oth­er coun­tries.”

“It’s an area of war­fare – cyber war­fare – that I think needs to be one on which we focus great­ly,” he added, not­ing that cyber war­fare has “dev­as­tat­ing poten­tial on the down side.”

“We’ve made a lot of changes inside the Depart­ment of Defense [and] inside our gov­ern­ment, and we are work­ing toward a very robust sys­tem here,” he said, adding that the cyber threat from Chi­na and oth­er sources is “sig­nif­i­cant.”

“I think we’ve got to come to a place where, again, those threats are dimin­ished, if not elim­i­nat­ed,” the chair­man said.

Mullen said he’s been around long enough to know threats can’t be wished away, and cyber­space and space are areas “with no rules,” where attacks hap­pen at the speed of light, launched by state and non­state actors.

“It’s an enor­mous­ly com­plex and crit­i­cal area that all of us need to under­stand a lot bet­ter and do a lot more about,” he said.

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

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