Panetta: U.S.-China Relationship One of World’s Most Critical

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta wel­comed Chi­nese Defense Min­is­ter Gen. Liang Guan­glie to the Pen­ta­gon today as part of the first U.S. vis­it by a Chi­nese defense min­is­ter in nine years.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta con­ducts a joint news con­fer­ence with Chi­nese Defense Min­is­ter Gen. Liang Guan­glie at the Pen­ta­gon, May 7, 2012. DOD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
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Liang’s vis­it occurs at a time when the armed forces of both nations seek to expand coop­er­a­tion, improve under­stand­ing, build trust and reduce dif­fer­ences. “The Unit­ed States and Chi­na are both Pacif­ic pow­ers, and our rela­tion­ship is one of the most crit­i­cal in the world,” Panet­ta said at a news con­fer­ence with Liang after their meet­ing.

“In my meet­ing with Gen­er­al Liang, I expressed my com­mit­ment to achiev­ing and main­tain­ing a healthy, sta­ble, reli­able and con­tin­u­ous [mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary] rela­tion­ship with Chi­na,” the sec­re­tary said, adding that at Liang’s invi­ta­tion he will vis­it Chi­na with­in the next few months.

“We share many inter­ests across the Asia-Pacif­ic region and beyond,” Panet­ta added, “from human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance to con­cerns about weapons of mass destruc­tion to ter­ror­ism to drug inter­dic­tions to trade to coun­ter­pira­cy.”

The nations have worked togeth­er in sev­er­al areas, the sec­re­tary said, and expect to expand coop­er­a­tion in areas such as peace­keep­ing, human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief, and coun­ter­pira­cy.

“As you all know,” Panet­ta said, “the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense recent­ly released a new defense strat­e­gy, rec­og­niz­ing that no region is more impor­tant than the Asia-Pacif­ic for our country’s future peace and pros­per­i­ty.”

Liang spoke through an inter­preter, describ­ing the pur­pose of his vis­it as being “to imple­ment the impor­tant agree­ment reached by Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao and Pres­i­dent [Barack] Oba­ma on devel­op­ing the China‑U.S. state-to-state and mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship.”

As part of that agree­ment, the gen­er­al said, both nations’ mil­i­taries will con­tin­ue to take advan­tage of ongo­ing defense con­sul­ta­tive talks, defense pol­i­cy coor­di­na­tion talks, the Mil­i­tary Mar­itime Con­sul­ta­tive Agree­ment and the defense tele­phone link between Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing.

Both sides, he added, acknowl­edge that coop­er­a­tion in secu­ri­ty areas in the Asia-Pacif­ic region serves each other’s fun­da­men­tal inter­ests, and that both agree to con­duct joint exer­cis­es on dis­as­ter recov­ery and coun­ter­pira­cy oper­a­tions this year.

“At present, China‑U.S. bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship is on a new start­ing line in his­to­ry,” Liang said, “to build a new kind of mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship based on equal­i­ty, coop­er­a­tion and mutu­al ben­e­fit.”

On his tour of U.S. defense facil­i­ties, Liang vis­it­ed Naval Base San Diego in Cal­i­for­nia over the week­end. After he leaves Wash­ing­ton, he will trav­el to Mia­mi to vis­it the U.S. South­ern Com­mand and its com­man­der, Air Force Gen. Dou­glas Fras­er.

There, South­com offi­cials will high­light oppor­tu­ni­ties for prac­ti­cal coop­er­a­tion in areas such as human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief, and expand the con­ver­sa­tion on non­tra­di­tion­al secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion efforts such as coun­ternar­cotics, an impor­tant part of Southcom’s mis­sion.

May 9, Liang will vis­it Camp Leje­une, N.C., for meet­ings and inter­ac­tion with 2nd Marine Expe­di­tionary Force and a chance to inter­act with some of the senior Marine Corps non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers.

He also will vis­it Fort Ben­ning, Ga., Sey­mour John­son Air Force Base, N.C., and the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my at West Point, N.Y., to have lunch with cadets.

At today’s news con­fer­ence, Panet­ta described sev­er­al ways in which the Unit­ed States and Chi­na have already worked togeth­er and will expand — includ­ing peace­keep­ing, human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief, and coun­ter­pira­cy.

“On coun­ter­pira­cy,” he said, “Chi­na has ably con­duct­ed mar­itime oper­a­tions in the Gulf of Aden for more than three years, and these oper­a­tions have helped to secure the free flow of com­merce in vital sea lanes from the Red Sea to the Indi­an Ocean.”

Thank­ing Liang for those efforts, the sec­re­tary said that lat­er this year U.S. and Chi­nese ships will con­duct a com­bined coun­ter­pira­cy exer­cise in the Gulf of Aden.

Panet­ta said he also con­veyed his appre­ci­a­tion to Liang for Chi­na co-chair­ing a group ded­i­cat­ed to human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief on behalf of the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations.

On region­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenges, the two lead­ers dis­cussed North Korea and oth­er areas of mutu­al inter­est, Panet­ta said, “areas that require our con­tin­ued coop­er­a­tion and dia­logue.” They also spoke about mar­itime areas, cyber­space, nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion and mis­sile defense, the sec­re­tary said.

The goal is to enhance coop­er­a­tion through­out the region and with Chi­na to pro­mote peace and sta­bil­i­ty there, Panet­ta said.

“We rec­og­nize that the Unit­ed States and Chi­na will not always agree on every issue,” he added, “but we believe our mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary dia­logue is crit­i­cal to ensur­ing that we avoid dan­ger­ous mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­per­cep­tions that could lead to cri­sis.

“A pos­i­tive, coop­er­a­tive, com­pre­hen­sive Unit­ed States-Chi­na rela­tion­ship is absolute­ly essen­tial to achiev­ing a secure Asia-Pacif­ic region,” he con­tin­ued, “and a more secure future for both of our nations.”

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