WASHINGTON, July 25, 2011 — America’s national security strategy priorities for the Asia-Pacific region encompass both a burgeoning relationship with China and enduring security commitments to other countries there, the nation’s senior military officer said today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Foreign Press Center here that his recent visit to China and the trip his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde, made here in May form “a basis for ongoing dialogue and some very tangible, common challenges we can continue to work on together — things like piracy and terrorism and disaster relief operations.”
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have agreed to advance military relations between the two countries, Mullen said, while acknowledging that “very real, very substantive issues” inhibit close cooperation and partnership between the two nations.
The Chinese object to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and U.S. reconnaissance flights in international airspace, Mullen said, while the United States objects to the use of coercion in settling disputes in the South China Sea, or any attempt to inhibit freedom of navigation and access to the global commons — international waters and airspace — as well as cyberspace.
Disagreement is a healthy part of any relationship, the chairman said, expressing the hope that a better relationship between the U.S. and Chinese militaries would help to improve the level of trust between the two nations.
“We have a long way to go in our relationship with China,” Mullen said, “and no recent history of strategic trust upon which to build it.”
But building a better military relationship with China cannot dominate U.S. planning and force posture decisions in the Asian-Pacific region, the admiral said, citing the U.S. relationships with South Korea and Japan as vital.
South Korea has steadfastly supported U.S. security efforts around the world, including in Afghanistan, and “our commitment to their defense and to security on the peninsula remains unwavering,” the chairman said.
Mullen added that he believes the North Korean regime will again attempt to provoke hostilities.
“Thus far, [South Korean] leaders have shown commendable restraint, but I think it would be a grave mistake for the North to perceive this restraint as a lack of resolve or, in fact, of the capability of our alliance to defend itself,” he said.
Mullen said the United States will continue to work with Japanese Self-Defense Forces to improve their operational capabilities.
“This was my first visit back to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami last March, and I was struck by just how fast and how well the hardest-hit areas were recovering,” he said. “I was also glad to hear from Japanese leaders that U.S. military contributions to the relief effort were of the size and scale they most needed.”
Mullen said the United States-Australia alliance is another model for “interoperability, transparency, and meaningful combined full-spectrum capabilities.”
“We will make it better with more joint operations, exercises and exchanges,” he added.
U.S. strategy also includes seeking expanded military cooperation with India on nonproliferation, safeguarding the global commons and countering terrorism, the chairman said.
“And we will expand our military security cooperation and exercises with the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore and other states in the region,” he said, “working with them to address common threats to their sovereignty and security.”
The United States also encourages other nations to strengthen partnerships with their neighbors, he said.
“Relationships matter — not just bilateral relationships, but collective ones, whether they include the United States or not,” Mullen said. Multilateral relationships improve understanding, sharpen interoperability, strengthen regional norms and encourage responsibility in addressing shared security challenges, he added.
The U.S. military will increase its emphasis on work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other multilateral forums, he said.
“We are and will remain a Pacific power,” Mullen said. “Our military is and will remain the long arm of that power. We will not shrink from old or new responsibilities. And we most certainly will not shrink from every opportunity to enhance peace and stability in this vital part of the world.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)