ADM. MULLEN: Please, sit down. So let me – this is on the record, right?
MR: Sir, this is on the record. You have about 30 minutes to fill out. And you’ll each have to answer at least – or ask at least one question.
ADM. MULLEN: OK. All right. So thanks for being here. I just – I’d make a couple opening comments before we get to your questions. And I’m delighted to be back on the peninsula, and we’ve had some good discussions. Obviously the focus was the change of command. But we’ve had some good discussions with the – my Korean counterpart General Han.
And we just reaffirmed, first of all, this is a vital alliance, and the United States’ commitment to this alliance is firm. There may have been a change of command here today, but nothing has changed about the United States’ military resolve and readiness. And we reaffirmed a long-term view that ensures what we do in the near term is guided by the strategic alliance 2015 framework and also on full-spectrum capabilities.
The threat remains very real. North Korea shows no sign of relenting in pursuit of its nuclear capabilities. And I’m not convinced that they won’t provoke again. I’ve said for a long time the only thing that’s predictable about North Korea is their unpredictability. This – and this – yet, as an alliance, it can’t just deal with the threat. I just left Beijing where I urged the Chinese to play a leadership role as well because it’s a regional issue. And really by connection to the region, it becomes a global issue.
I believe a measured, multilateral approach is needed not just now, but will be needed for a long time into the future. And so I certainly encourage other partners, including the Japanese, to help contribute to deterrence. We all stand to gain from a stable peninsula. And there’s – there are no zero-sums with respect to that. I want to give a lot of credit to Minister Kim and General Han for their poise and calm in the face of provocation last year. The Korean people lost their own troops and citizens, and we should never forget that.
The North should not mistake their restraint as a lack of resolve, nor should they interpret it as a willingness to accept continued attacks to go unchallenged. And I’d just return to what I said before – the United States remains very committed to this alliance, to the Korean people, and to peace and stability on the peninsula and in the region.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
(Translation into Korean.)
ADM. MULLEN: Very good.
INTERPRETER: Thank you.
MR. : First question, please?
Q: Admiral, Sam – (inaudible) – from AP. As you know, North Korea is preparing for what it calls a great, prosperous and strong nation next year, and there’s also the succession issue which is fully in progress. Are these two factors – how do these two factors impact the U.S. readiness – combat readiness and South Korean readiness against possible provocations which could come in the process where North Korea is trying to tout its regime, tout the succession, tout the leadership of the new leader?
ADM. MULLEN: I think actually both factors – both are factors overall, and that there has been a succession plan or succession – yeah, plan being executed – has been ongoing for some time. And that’s not an insignificant part of the whole provocation cycle, from my perspective, and if you look back historically to other succession time frames.
What I think is probably more influential, from my perspective, in terms of creating a sense of urgency for the alliance was what happened last year – and not just, I mean, the tragic death and the loss of the 46 sailors in Cheonan, the – clearly the loss of the Marines on YP-do who were brave military individuals serving their country, but also Korean citizens, and the expectation, at least from my perspective, that unless the leadership in the North is deterred they will continue to do that. President Lee has made it very clear that that isn’t going to be tolerated, and that there is going to be – if provocations continue there will be a very strong response.
So one of the things that we’re all working on, the U.S. military with our counterparts, with a sense of urgency that is, I think, probably tied more closely to what happened last year and the deaths of Korean citizens than it is to the succession plan or to the 2012 expectations for the North – although I think those are factors. It is – we have a sense of urgency to essentially work on planning to deter the North from further provocations. Whether it will happen or not – whether they will be deterred or not, I think that’s to be seen.
But it’s also – this also isn’t just a – as I indicated in my opening comments, this isn’t just the responsibility of the Republic of Korea and the United States because this – it has regional impacts immediately. I was just in Beijing, and one of the areas that I think is incredibly important to continue to emphasize is the responsibilities we all have in the region to support peace and stability, and that certainly includes the Chinese.
I just – and I also reaffirmed with the Chinese, the United States – (coughs) – excuse me – the United States isn’t going anywhere. This is a vital region, and we’ve been here for a long time; we’ll continue to be here for a long time. We’ve got allies, we’ve got alliances, we’ve got emerging relationships, all of which are vital as well.
And the instability that could come from provocations in the North will affect us all. And I think it wasn’t too long ago that Secretary – then-Secretary of Defense Gates said that for the North it will be sometime in the future, but it’s not the distant future, where they’ll be able to put a weapon on top of a missile that will reach the United States. So we have vital national interests that are here, a growing threat that we’ve got to work to get ahead of. And that’s one of the reasons that we’re working so hard now on the planning in the – you know, inside the alliance.
Q: (Translated from foreign language.) Sir, I’m Mr. Sunita (ph) from the Kyodo News from Japan. First of all, on behalf of the people of Japan, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to you for your tremendous support during the earthquake and the tsunami that hit Japan.
And my question is that you emphasized the importance of the – a multinational approach to deter North Korean provocation and to guarantee peace on the Korean peninsula and the region. And you said that China and Japan should join the efforts to deter North Korea. And also, last year, when you visited Korea, you emphasized the need for the trilateral cooperation relationship between Korea, U.S. and Japan.
Sir, do you have any further plans related to the trilateral cooperation between these – among these three countries?
And my second question is related to the Futenma base in Okinawa. In reference to this base, the chairman of the Senate Armed Service (ph) Committee mentioned that there is possibility that these bases can be consolidated with the Kadena bases. Sir, do you think this can be an option in the future?
ADM. MULLEN: First of all, still, I want to continue to offer my thoughts and prayers and condolences for the so many families who suffered in the earthquake and tsunami. And I have a tremendous admiration for how the Japanese people have handled that tragedy. And I think they’re a wonderful example for mankind, quite frankly.
Secondly, I think there is great power in the trilateral aspect of the relationship, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan. And certainly, on the military side, we continue to work – we continue to work our way through and take steps in that direction. And I think that will be part of the strategy for the future. And I’m also aware that there are links from a trilateral standpoint throughout our governments.
And the multilateral aspect of solutions here I – in this – in this region, I think, are critical, first of all; secondly, I – just globally – and I don’t – I would never apply what I would call a cookie-cutter – but globally, multilateral solutions are becoming more and more important. So emphasis there is important as well.
With respect to Futenma, I think probably the strategic message is that we value the base locations where U.S. forces are in the Pacific, and we think it’s vital – they are vital for security and stability and also for certainly potential defense of the peninsula, which affects more than just the Republic of Korea.
With respect to Senator Levin’s letter, certainly I’ve seen that letter. And I would say that over the course of several years, there have been many, many proposals which have been examined. And certainly, the ideas that are included in that have been part of previous examinations.
You saw in the recent talks between the minister of defense and the foreign ministry and Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary Gates that we’ve delayed the 2014 date. But even while doing that, we’re still very much committed to finding a solution for this very important issue.
Q: (Translated from Korean.) Sir, I’m Mr. Ansoko (ph) from the Segye daily newspaper. Sir, you emphasized the importance of regional peace and a multinational cooperative approach to deter any provocations in the peninsula and to guarantee peace. And as you may well know, China, they – of course, they cannot reach the level of economic or military strength of the United States of America. However, one area that we have to focus is that China is concentrating their military power in the Asian region.
However, meanwhile, the U.S. is having a very worldwide approach, having your troops being deployed overseas. And at the same time, the U.S. is now facing a very – a challenge related to your financial issues. And in that case, will the U.S. be able to balance and check the military power of China which are challenging their efforts in the Asian region? And what kind of impact will this have on the Korean peninsula?
ADM. MULLEN: Part of the – I mean, one of the most important parts, or the reasons that I went to China was to understand – try to understand their strategy and what they’re doing better, and certainly continue to express both concerns about some of their high-tech – highly technical developments, as for instance in the anti-satellite world or the anti-cruise – the anti-carrier missile, specifically, and at the same time look at, or reaffirm, the United States’ commitment to the region, that we’re going to be here, we’re going to support – continue to support our alliances and allies.
And we’ll do that through these very difficult budget times, as well. Recognize that these budget times will require difficult decisions, but I am very comfortable we’ll stay committed to these alliances and that we will continue to pursue capabilities and relationships which focus on a stable Pacific and Asia.
With this rising power and increased capability that China has, also from my perspective in economic growth, comes responsibility for regional stability, for global stability. And certainly, that’s a point of continuous emphasis in my discussions with them.
Q: (Inaudible ) – CNN. Admiral, if I can ask about your trip to China, when Kim Jong Il was there recently, the Chinese authorities did actually tell the South Korean authorities that he was there while he was there, which is different because usually they wait until he’s left. This was perceived as an improvement in the relations and in the intelligence coming through. Did you see any difference in the Chinese attitude, that they seemed more willing to take a harder line against North Korea, where they were more willing to take a leadership role?
ADM. MULLEN: What – in the discussions I had with the military leadership with respect to North Korea, the emphasis was on stability. It was – it was – on the peninsula and, very specifically, stability in North Korea, and the responsibility we all have – in this case, the United States and China – to do all we can to create the conditions, if you will, and support the conditions which will permit that stability to be sustained.
I – certainly, given the provocations specifically of last year, there are expectations that each country has, both in the region and the United States, for trying to work our way through this. And I just think we also have to have a realistic expectation about how much any one country can do with respect to that. I think working together, the power of that is one of those things – the sum of the – the sum of the parts is a lot bigger, I think, if we all work together focused on that.
So I believe that China certainly has influence in Pyongyang, but they also don’t have – it’s not an infinite amount of influence. I think we have to understand that as we continue to work that challenge, while at the same time, from my perspective, certainly from the PLA leadership, they are very focused on working that issue.
MS. : We have time for one.
ADM. MULLEN: – Can take one more.
Q: Ashley Rowland, Stars and Stripes. As you know, some in the U.S. Senate have called for a postponement of the military’s realignment plans in the Pacific until they can do a review. Do you support this? Do you think it’s necessary? And in particular, can you comment about these senators’ concerns about tour normalization in South Korea? They question whether or not it’s safe and whether or not it’s cost-feasible.
ADM. MULLEN: My own view is that the tour normalization and the movement that we’ve had in that regard is a very, very important step in the future. We’ve invested heavily in our families over the course of the last decade in an extraordinary time of stress and sacrifice. And to be able to stabilize their world, I think it’s a necessary part of our future and, quite frankly, integral – in the long run, integral to our readiness. I think family readiness is directly tied to our military readiness.
All that said, I certainly fully understand the Senate asking questions about cost. We’re all asking questions about cost across the board right now. And I think those questions will continue to be asked. And so I’m certainly supportive of – very supportive of them asking those questions and us getting them answers back to those questions as we look at that.
And there are very difficult decisions tied to the budget pressures that we’re all under. So having everything on the table and asking the hard questions is something we all have to do. And I certainly support and respect, you know, the Senate’s questions along those lines.