Pacom Commander Hopes for Continued U.S.-China Engagement

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2011 — When the com­man­der of U.S. forces in the Pacif­ic dis­cussed region­al chal­lenges today, Chi­na topped the list.

“The Unit­ed States’ rela­tion­ship with Chi­na is a very impor­tant rela­tion­ship that con­tin­ues to need to be man­aged well,” Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard told reporters at the For­eign Press Cen­ter here.

“As always, the Asia-Pacif­ic [region] remains a thrilling and chal­leng­ing part of the world, crit­i­cal to the glob­al econ­o­my, crit­i­cal to the Unit­ed States and its inter­ests,” he added.

Asked about China’s report­ed plan to cur­tail mil­i­tary exchanges with the Unit­ed States in response to U.S.-Taiwan arms sales, Willard said he is hope­ful that high-lev­el dis­cus­sions between U.S. and Chi­nese offi­cials will con­tin­ue. When the sub­ject of Tai­wan arms sales sur­faced in the media last week, Willard said, he was host­ing China’s Jinan Mil­i­tary Region com­man­der, Gen. Fan Chang­long, at U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand head­quar­ters in Hawaii.

“We dis­cussed many things,” Willard said, most­ly the things that the Unit­ed States and Chi­na have in com­mon. Tai­wan arms sales also came up, he added, but Fan “did not raise the issue of con­se­quences to our mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship, should that occur.”

The past year has seen exten­sive senior-leader engage­ment between the two nations, the admi­ral said, not­ing that he attend­ed the Strate­gic Secu­ri­ty Dia­logue between U.S. and Chi­nese defense and for­eign affairs rep­re­sen­ta­tives. That meet­ing was effec­tive in address­ing some strate­gic-lev­el issues, he added.

“I think that regard­less of the effects of this par­tic­u­lar round of Tai­wan arms sales and dis­agree­ment between our two gov­ern­ments on that issue, Chi­na will be very like­ly to retain the high-lev­el vis­i­ta­tion … that will enable us to con­tin­ue those strate­gic-lev­el dis­cus­sions,” he said.

The admi­ral said the com­bat pow­er Chi­na directs toward Tai­wan is “very sig­nif­i­cant,” and the U.S. inter­est, in accor­dance with the Tai­wan Rela­tions Act, is that Tai­wan have the nec­es­sary capa­bil­i­ties and ser­vices to defend itself. That defen­sive capa­bil­i­ty enhances sta­bil­i­ty across the Tai­wan Strait and enables the ongo­ing dia­logue between Chi­na and Tai­wan. That, he added, ulti­mate­ly will “lend to a more favor­able out­come, not detract from it.”

The Unit­ed States and Chi­na are too con­cerned in secu­ri­ty issues both in the Asia-Pacif­ic region and the world “to allow any sin­gle dis­agree­ment between gov­ern­ments to stop con­sul­ta­tions alto­geth­er,” Willard said.

“And I’m very hope­ful that the Chi­nese lead­er­ship rec­og­nizes that,” he added.

Senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cials rec­og­nize the impor­tance of close com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Chi­nese mil­i­tary lead­ers, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle told reporters today.

“Our expec­ta­tion, clear­ly, is that we’ll con­tin­ue to main­tain com­mu­ni­ca­tion and coop­er­a­tion as we can with the Chi­nese,” Lit­tle said. “It’s essen­tial, of course, to con­tin­ue dia­logue with our Chi­nese mil­i­tary coun­ter­parts, and trans­paren­cy is a key touch­stone of that. So, we hope to con­tin­ue along those lines.”

China’s rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan also is a fac­tor in the “very com­plex” secu­ri­ty dynam­ic in South Asia, Willard said.

Chi­na and Pakistan’s long­stand­ing mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment rela­tion­ship, Willard said, is sig­nif­i­cant giv­en the over­all dynam­ics of the region, includ­ing India’s dis­pute with Pak­istan over the Kash­mir region, the con­test­ed bor­der between north­ern India and Chi­na, and Afghanistan.

Willard said he believes Chi­na rec­og­nizes the impor­tance of a region­al out­come in which rela­tions among Afghanistan, Pak­istan and India con­tin­ue to be man­aged.

“I think China’s inter­ests and U.S. inter­ests in the region, while we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this, are inher­ent­ly con­ver­gent and desire a sta­ble South Asia,” the admi­ral said.

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