The strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific doesn’t mean deploying high numbers of U.S. troops into the region, but it does involve more interest, more engagement and more quality in equipment and capabilities, America’s senior military officer said here today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff for the Chinese army, spoke to reporters here during a news conference following about three hours of meetings at the Bayi Building, China’s ministry of national defense.
“My theme [on this visit] is quite simple, actually -- a stable and prosperous region is in everyone’s best interest,” Dempsey said.
The two leaders met before the news conference during a small-group meeting for about an hour, then moved to a larger group meeting. As translators rendered Dempsey’s remarks in Mandarin and Fang’s in English at the news conference, the pair spoke with similar voices on topics including terrorism, North Korea, disaster relief and cyberattacks.
Responding to a reporter’s question asking his stance on North Korean nuclear capability, Fang said he always has maintained that the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons.
“We are thoroughly opposed to the nuclear test conducted by the [North Korean government],” he said. “We support the U.N. Security Council in appropriate and reasonable sanctions against North Korea.”
Fang said he thinks peaceful dialogue is the most desirable approach to resolving multinational concerns about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The last round of six-party talks aimed at the issue -- involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- was in 2009.
“We ask all sides to work actively … [to persuade] the North Koreans to stop the nuclear tests and to stop producing nuclear weapons,” he said.
Fang also answered a question about cyberattacks in the wake of recent reports that many are launched from within China’s army and said cyberattacks are a concern for all “big cyber countries.”
If the Internet is not managed well, he said, “it may bring damaging consequences.” He added, “If the security of the Internet cannot be guaranteed, then … results may be as serious as a nuclear bomb.”
China is a major victim of cyberattacks, he said, and the nation’s leaders have no tolerance for it. Fang pointed out, however, that pinpointing the source of attacks can be very difficult, as the Internet is open to everyone and attacks can be launched from anywhere.
“General Dempsey and I have already talked about the importance of maintaining cybersecurity,” he said. “I believe it is important that we check out the idea that we should jointly work on this issue.”
Dempsey responded to a reporter’s assertion that three obstacles inhibit U.S.-Chinese relations: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, reconnaissance by U.S. ships and aircraft, and “the discriminatory laws against China.” The reporter asked what the United States can do to improve the relationship.
“We talked about all three of those issues today, and another three, four or five beyond that,” the chairman said. “And maybe isn’t that the point? It’s the first time we’ve spoken about these issues.”
The two nations have frequent military-to-military contact on the tactical level, Dempsey said, but could benefit by more frequent senior-leader engagement. “It’s our desire, both of us, that we maintain dialogue at the strategic level. … We are committed to building a better, deeper, more enduring relationship,” the chairman added.
It’s important that each side do that while keeping in mind the other side’s commitments to other nations, Dempsey said. The United States considers its relationship with China in the context of historic and enduring alliances in the region, he noted.
“This isn’t about choosing any one or the other,” he said. “We have some treaty obligations, but we will build this relationship by increasing our contact at the strategic level and recognizing [those alliances].”
The final question was to Dempsey, asking why the United States conducts military exercises in China’s vicinity. Dempsey said the answer “is probably at the core of why I’ve made this visit.”
The United States is and has been a Pacific power, and while its military has been particularly active and busy in the Middle East, it has never left and will not leave the Asia-Pacific, the chairman said.
“Our intention, of course, is to contribute to stability in a way that protects our national interests, which are very much tied to this region,” he said.
Dempsey said the United States seeks to be a stabilizing influence in the region. “We believe that it would be our absence that would be a destabilizing influence on the region, not our presence,” he added.
Fang led the news conference by welcoming Dempsey and his delegation, and said he hopes the chairman’s visit furthers the exchange of ideas between the two nations’ militaries.
In his opening remarks, Dempsey thanked Fang for his hospitality and offered his condolences for the victims of the April 21 Sichuan magnitude 7.0 earthquake, a temblor that left a reported 189 people dead and injured more than 11,000. The chairman also complimented Fang on the Chinese army’s quick response after the earthquake, and the general’s leadership of that effort.
The chairman also expressed sympathy for the family of Lu Lingzi, a Chinese graduate student who had been pursuing a master’s degree at Boston University when she was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings April 15.
She “was a gifted student, tragically killed,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to her grieving family.”
Dempsey arrived in Beijing yesterday after a stop in South Korea. Later this week, he will continue his Asia trip with a visit to Japan.