With his visit to China nearly complete, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said today he has been afforded good access to senior Chinese leaders, junior leaders and future leaders.
Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a media roundtable that one thread common to the meetings he’s attended here is that with power comes responsibility -- local, regional and, increasingly, global.
Dempsey said his discussions in China, which is widely considered the world’s greatest rising power, have ranged from regional concerns such as territorial disputes to the potentially global issue of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Other major topics in his talks here this week, he said, included growing risk in the cyber domain and the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
Earlier this week, Dempsey met separately with Chinese President Xi Jinping and State Councilor Yang Jiechi. He also met individually and in some group meetings with senior Chinese army officers, including Gen. Chang Wanguan, minister of national defense; Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission; and his host for this visit, Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff.
Addressing reporters’ questions on North Korea today, Dempsey said the ballistic missile and nuclear tests Pyongyang has conducted show that nation is “on a path that will certainly increase risk in the region, and ultimately could present risk globally.”
The United States has responded to North Korean provocations in the past, he noted, by denouncing North Korea’s path toward nuclear weapons and its failure to live up to agreements and U.N. Security Council resolutions against such development. The U.S. military posture toward a nuclear-armed North Korea is one of deterrence and preparedness, the chairman said.
“If they were to launch, we do have the capability to defend ourselves, our people, our facilities,” Dempsey added.
China, North Korea’s primary ally along with Russia, has been very clear that among its national interests is a non-nuclearized Korean Peninsula, Dempsey said. He added that he will leave China believing that its leaders are “as concerned as we are” about the issue.
Dempsey said his meetings here did not touch on specific measures the Chinese might take in response to further North Korean actions.
“We think there’s still time for North Korea’s leaders to back away from further provocations, and we certainly hope they take the opportunity to do so,” he added.
To questions on cyber concerns involving China, Dempsey said he has the advantage of being able to build on decisions that already have been taken. He noted that during Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s visit here earlier this month, the Chinese agreed to form a cyber working group.
“I reinforced my belief that that was timely and appropriate,” the chairman said. “We had a very useful discussion about how the challenges in cyber are migrating from theft to disruption, and left unaddressed, are likely to lead to destruction.”
The nations that have the strongest economies and rely most on technology are most vulnerable to cyber activity, Dempsey said. In discussions with Chinese leaders, he said, “I encouraged them to put their best and brightest minds to seek a level of collaboration and transparency with us, because it will affect both of our futures.”
The chairman said he supports developing a code of conduct for cyber activity, likening the concept to Albert Einstein’s assertion that “if I had 60 minutes to save the world, I should spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and only five minutes solving it.”
“I think we’re in that ‘55 minutes,’” Dempsey said. “I think we’re in that period of gaining a common understanding. … Cyber continues to evolve, whether we would like it to or not.”
State, nonstate and individual actors all operate in the cyber domain, he said, and while cyber originated as an open-architecture system designed to allow information to move freely, “there has to be some code of conduct established.”
The chairman also responded to reporters’ questions about the territorial dispute between China and Japan over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, adjacent to possible undersea oil reserves. Japan refers to them as the Senkaku Islands, while in China they are known as the Diaoyu Islands.
Dempsey noted the United States doesn’t take sides in such disputes and urges peaceful resolution to all such issues.
In discussions, both he and the Chinese were “very candid” about their respective positions on the islands, he said.
“In the case of Japan, in particular, I was careful to remind them that we do have certain treaty obligations with Japan that we would honor,” the chairman said. “And therefore, it was in everyone’s best interest that this be resolved peacefully and without military coercion.”
The chairman said many of the senior and mid-level Chinese military leaders he spoke with here sought clarity about the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
“I think I was successful in describing it as a long-term process,” he said. “We’ve never suggested this would be something that would manifest itself overnight. But also, it was a strategic imperative for us to rebalance, over time, to the Pacific.”
Economic, security, and demographic trends all lead to the Asia-Pacific region, he said.
“Furthermore, I tell them this wasn’t about them, meaning China. Of course they’re a factor, … but this wasn’t a strategy that was aimed at them in any way,” Dempsey said.
The chairman added that military considerations are only part of the broader U.S. regional strategy. “I pointed out to them that among the first visitors who came here after our … rebalancing initiative was announced was Jack Lew, the secretary of the treasury,” he said.
Dempsey noted that President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have discussed forging a new relationship between the two countries. “That new relationship will, of course, be established in the context of our other and enduring relationships in the region,” he said.
In every case, Dempsey said, discussion about the rebalance was dynamic.
“I like to believe that my trip here has contributed to a greater understanding of what we’re doing and why,” he said. “But it’s something that we’re going to have to continue to work over time.”
Today, the chairman visited China’s National Defense University, the 4th Aviation Regiment and the Army Aviation Academy.
The cadets Dempsey spoke with are training to become either maintainers or pilots of aircraft, he noted. In discussion with the Chinese cadets, Dempsey said, “they probably asked me a dozen or more questions. One of the questions was about an issue of geostrategic importance, and 11 of them were about leadership.”
“It was fascinating, actually,” he added. “I found them to be genuinely interested in how I described myself as a leader, what were the attributes I thought were important, … [and] the difference between junior-level leadership and senior-level leadership.”
The chairman said his answer to the cadets was fundamentally the same thing he would tell a junior military leader in the U.S. forces.
“That is, that what we expect our junior leaders to do is to become competent in their chosen fields, so if you’re an aviator, you should aspire to be the best aviator that you can be,” Dempsey said. “And then, spend as much time thinking about how to be a man or woman of character, because leadership is the combination of competence and character.”