ADMIRAL MULLEN: Good afternoon everyone, and thank you very much for coming. This is my first visit back to Japan since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, so let me begin by offering my sincere condolences to the Japanese people for the loss you have suffered and the anguish you have endured. I know I speak for all Americans everywhere when I say that we are still deeply saddened by this tragedy and still committed to doing what we can to support you as you continue to recover. And our thoughts and prayers remain with you. Watching from afar, I must also say that I was inspired by the dignity, the strength, the grace and resilience with which Japanese citizens responded to the shock. If ever there was by any people a finer display of character and courage under such circumstances, I simply haven’t seen it. And so, thank you, as well for the power of your example to the world.
I would be remiss if I failed to likewise commend General Oriki’s leadership in this crisis and the extraordinary efforts of the Japanese Self-Defense Force to rapidly mobilize, organize, and support relief operations. These brave men and women, as they have done so often, represented and protected their fellow citizens at a time of great peril with equally great professionalism and skill. For our part, the United States military was proud to support your troops and to labor side-by-side -- day and night -- with them, on the ground, in the air, and at sea as we jointly battled the elements and the unspeakable destruction. Indeed, I go to Sendai tomorrow to see for myself some of the still-ongoing recovery efforts. And I look forward to thanking personally those that are still engaged in the work.
That we did all this together -- that we could do this -- speaks to the strong relationship we have enjoyed, the mutual training we have conducted, and the great alliance we have forged for more than 50 years. Operation Tomodachi was only possible because of our close friendship. We know you, and you know us. And together we have served not only the defense of Japan, but the cause of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. And it is the strength of that friendship I am here to reaffirm. In every meeting I will attend, in every discussion I will have, I will convey my government’s commitment -- and that of my military -- to expanding and improving our bilateral relations.
But we must also work hard to expand multilateral relations in the region. As I said during my last trip to Tokyo, no single nation can address all of today’s challenges alone. There is a greater strength to be found in the diversity of talent presented through plural initiatives and cooperation. I applaud recent efforts by Japan and Korea, and by Japan and Australia, to begin the process of reaching out to one another and explore the mutual opportunities to train -- whether that training occurs alongside United States forces or not. I am also glad to see other nations here reaching out to one another to address the common challenges they face, whether it’s piracy in the Straits of Malacca, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, weapons proliferation, or disaster response. In fact, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations offer a terrific opening in this regard, and I hope that Japan and Korea can expand upon the dialogue you have started and move forward in the very near future to execute tangible, effective training scenarios.
It should also be a priority, in my view, to exercise other, more conventional deterrence and defensive capabilities with Korea and with other of your partners in the region. I was in Seoul yesterday, and I delivered a similar message there. The United States has enduring interests in the Pacific, and we have enduring security commitments we plan to broaden and deepen. But so, too, would we like to see others broaden and deepen their cooperation with their neighbors. Relationships matter. Where they are strong, there is trust and transparency and a better chance for stability. Where they are weak or non-existent, there is at best suspicion and at worst the very real risk of miscalculation.
As you know, I spent a few days this week in China. I traveled there at the invitation of my counterpart, General Chen Bingde, after I had hosted him in the States two months ago. I believe these meetings were productive and generally positive with respect to moving us closer to some sort of relationship. We haven’t had a sustained, reliable relationship with the PLA, certainly none that was of any consequence or immune to shifting political winds. And that just doesn’t make sense from my perspective, given the investments the Chinese are making in their military and the lack of strategic transparency they have thus far demonstrated.
Quite frankly, and I made this clear in Beijing, there’s just too much at stake for us not to have an understanding of one another, or some way of explaining ourselves. And so, we’ve started to have that conversation. We’ve started to build a level of trust. There is a long way to go, I clearly understand that. And I am under no illusion that we have cemented anything like a partnership with the PLA. Maybe we never will. Differences between us are still stark. But the work of establishing a relationship has to start somewhere. The exchanges and the exercises we agreed to are good first steps, as are the discussions we will soon have about the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement.
Even if one of these initiatives reduces the risk of conflict in the region, then it will have been worth the effort. And even if one of our junior officers -- on either side -- can say that as a result, he or she knows a counterpart, routinely speaks to a counterpart, or even just appreciates the thinking of a counterpart, then we will have begun to bridge what I consider a dangerous divide.
And as I said, and as I know the people of Japan understand, relationships matter. And I would ask those of our friends who may be concerned about this budding liaison between the United States and the PLA, the United States military and the PLA, to remember that relationships are not zero-sum affairs, replete with winners and losers. One relationship does not come at the expense of another. Nor does a relationship in the nascent stages of development unseat or make unsteady those that have been tempered over time and trial. Quite the contrary. A constructive U.S.-PLA relationship is eventually good for everyone with whom we are close.
In closing, the United States is a Pacific power. The United States military is the long arm of that power. We are not going away. We are not ceding our responsibilities. And we most certainly are not going to shrink from every opportunity to enhance peace and stability in this vital part of the world. Of course, should your women’s soccer team defeat ours in the World Cup this weekend, we may have to seriously rethink our position. Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, welcome to Japan. I’d like to ask about the question about the South China Sea. The consistent view of the littoral states among the status quo in the South China Sea, especially the behavior of China, is changing from assertive to more aggressive. And there’s a growing expectation or outcry among the countries like Vietnam and the Philippines for the United States to step up your effort to enhance the security in the region – and to be more specific, for you to stand up much stronger against China. And this is also a vital interest for Japan too. And first, let me ask a couple questions. First, could you share your views about what is happening in the South China Sea? Is it deteriorating? And second, I understand the United States has done enormously already in this region, starting with Secretary Clinton’s statement that it’s a national interest, and also a number of port visits to Vietnam by PACOM, and also the LCS deployment to Singapore. But is there anything that the United States is ready to do more, on top of what you have done already? Thank you.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Well, I think to answer that question, to speak to what Secretary Clinton has said, to your comments about what the Pacific Commander has said, the potential deployment of the LCS’s in the region – really speak to the very high level, very strong commitment to peace and stability in the region. And then specifically with respect to actions that have taken place in the South China Sea recently, in recent weeks to months, we’re all very concerned that, in fact, they could result in some kind of escalation, some kind of miscalculation – an incident, a misunderstanding that would greatly heighten the stakes, if you will. The United States position on this is: we take no position with respect to resolving the disputes. That’s to be done between countries. We take a very strong position with respect to the international standard of freedom of navigation. And it isn’t whether or not the United States is involved in a freedom of navigation issue, because a violation of a freedom of navigation issue by anybody is of concern to many, many countries internationally. And I have operated all over the world using that standard, and it’s a standard that I believe we all have to support. Certainly, the situation in recent weeks, the tensions have grown. And those tensions have obviously focused leaders in many countries. And, as I told the Chinese, and as I said in my statement, the United States isn’t going away. It is a vital interest. This region and its peace and stability is critical to those who live here, but also to the United States. And we will continue to exercise our responsibilities with respect to that, and I hope all other countries will do the same – and do so, as I said, peacefully in terms of resolution. We have great friends in Vietnam. We have great friends in the Philippines. Obviously we have great friends here. And I think certainly the United States has taken a position that continues to be supportive of that. So we’re not going away, we’ve operated in the South China Sea for many decades. We will continue to do that, and I’m sure other countries will as well.
QUESTION: Admiral, Fukushima from Mainichi Newspaper, Japanese daily newspaper. Just a quick follow-up about China: China is eager to develop its maritime capabilities, including the possible recent operation of its first aircraft carrier. During your visit to China, did you get assurances from your Chinese counterparts that it might not pose a threat to the region, meaning that it is a defensive structure, not an aggressive one? And if it might pose a threat to the region, what kind of action is the United States going to take? Thank you very much.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Well, the consistent message from the PLA leadership was that all of their capabilities that they are developing are defensive in nature. Certainly, actually the aircraft carrier did come up, specifically, and I recognize that’s a very important and new capability. But when I spoke to it in a news conference with General Chen, it’s a very strong signal, and it’s a very strong message, but we need to just take into consideration what the actual capability will be, as opposed to what we might perceive it to be. And I’ve said for a long time, a peaceful rising China is a good thing for the region and for the world. What the United States has focused on is this issue of transparency. I can tell you, having been there for almost four days, there is now more transparency from my perspective than there was before I visited. That’s why the relationship-building is so important. And I think that as we build this relationship and we have the exchanges and understand each other better, that issue of transparency will certainly fade. It hasn’t faded as a result of a single visit. But I did visit several of their bases, saw some of their equipment, their people, and as I said, General Chen emphasized these were all defensive in nature, along with the carrier. And there are some good capabilities that they’re developing, but I also think it’s important to note that they’re not ten feet tall, that they are emerging as a military and they’re working hard on that capability and they’re investing in it. But from the standpoint of what I saw capability-wise, I think we just have to again keep in perspective the real capability they’re developing, not the perceptions that get generated by some of the capability. They do have some high-end capabilities – the anti-satellite shot was a very sophisticated shot, the long-range anti-carrier missile that they’re developing, they’re very capable in the cyber world and I worry a great deal about that. And I think we’ve got to be able to continue to address those challenges with them in a way that supports what they say, which is defensive and peaceful. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of what we really know.
QUESTION: Concerning the U.S. Air Force’s station in Okinawa, you might be a target, isn’t there a risk of becoming a target of Chinese preemptive attack? If there is such a risk, U.S. forces may be withdrawn to Guam? Is there such an option? And when you are trying to deploy U.S. forces from Guam to an event around Japan, how many hours would that take or how long would that take?
ADMIRAL MULLEN: I think the issue of United States bases in Japan and also in the region is, those bases and our relationship are strategic underpinnings for the defense of Japan, should that actually be required, responding in the region, and the distribution of those bases is also something that strategically and for a long time we’ve been focused on. I’m very aware of the challenges with the realignment that are associated with both Okinawa and Guam. I was pleased with the outcome of the recent 2+2 that reaffirmed the commitment to the realignment on the part of both Japan and the United States that said that we no longer can meet a deadline that we had of 2014, but that we will do it as soon after that as we possibly can. And that there needs to be progress on both sides of this as quickly as possible. I have seen the leadership of both countries committed to resolution of these very difficult challenges. In the end, they’re a very important part of stability in the region, the ability to provide the kind of support and defense of Japan that our alliance calls for, and do so in a way that recognizes the changes which occur over time, but certainly retain a presence in the region that is supportive of both the operational reality of being near at hand and we recognize that solutions must be politically sustainable over time. And in your question about Guam, you put your finger on an issue that we all pay attention to: time matters, proximity matters. So as we look to eventually removing upwards of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, which we’re committed to and what happens in terms of the realignment, we take all of that into consideration and tie it to our obligations to defense both for Japan as well as in the region. And all of that is ideally designed to deter people as opposed to be able to respond, but we must be able to do both – provide a strong presence which is deterrent and if we need to execute, if we get in a conflict, to be able to do that.
QUESTION: Seth Robson from Stars and Stripes. I just had a question: you were talking about the relationship between Japan, bilateral relationships. You talked about enhancing the relationship with South Korea or Australia. I’m just wondering can you expand on that and sort of give some opinions on where those relationships should go in terms of bilateral cooperation between Japan and its neighbors?
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Well, there have been steps taken recently by Japan which actually are both bilateral and trilateral in the case of Japan, Korea, and the United States, and I think you have to start with small steps. In doing that, exercises at sea, humanitarian missions of common interest, so we talk about humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, we talk about rescue at sea. And certainly the experience that the SDF has been through here, and as a result of their great performance in the tsunami, that there are capabilities there that we all want to continue to try to work with to expand the relationship beyond just the bilateral piece. That doesn’t mean walk away from the bilateral, because I think the bilateral relationships are very important as well. I’ve spoken about this with my Australian counterpart, certainly my Korean counterpart, and I’ll see General Oriki this afternoon and I’m sure we will discuss it as well. In my opening comments, opening statement, I also spoke to something that I think is very important: so that we don’t just have relationships at the very senior level but that we have a relationship on the military-to-military side. Also, create a relationship at the more junior level, at the major and lieutenant commander level, if you will. That can be through training; that can be through education; that can be through exercises. That’s a fairly well-understood model that has been used by many countries over a long period of time. And all of that builds trust and confidence and creates an understanding between and among countries that sometimes just isn’t there until you start that. So I’m encouraged by what I see, by some steps which have been taken recently, and I hope that we could expand on those. So that when that major or that lieutenant commander from whatever country is standing here 20 or 25 years from now, our relationships are much more robust and we’re not having the same conversation.
QUESTION: Mukai from Yomiuri Shimbun. Last month the Joint Strategic Objective which has been drawn up, so you must make sure that there is no regional threat in terms of Chinese military power. I think you’re very in mind of the risk of Chinese construction of aircraft carriers, and it has the capability to attack U.S. forces in Japan. You talked about relocation of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, so the presence of U.S. forces in Okinawa, but how do you think this Chinese strategy will impact its presence?
ADMIRAL MULLEN: The main reason I went to China was to take a step in renewing the military-to-military relationship. So I had a conversation, communication, on issues that we agree on as well as those which we disagree on. And to create a deeper understanding of each other, and we don’t have a very deep – you know we have a very shallow understanding of each other right now. And I think in that relationship, among others, President Obama and President Hu Jin-tao have focused on this relationship in terms of between the United States and China moving forward and focusing on mutual respect and mutual benefit. There’s an economic piece of that, a diplomatic piece of that, political piece of that, and clearly there’s a military piece of that. And I think all of that is a part of how we understand each other better and work to a future that is better for the American people, better for the Chinese people, and better for the peoples of the region and the world. The question that focuses on these capabilities is one that we all have. I indicated General Chen Bingde talked about them being defensive capabilities. He also speaks to being many years behind the United States. I don’t share that view in every capability, but as I said earlier, I think it’s important to understand what’s the actual capability as they field these. Now they’ve got several of them in research and development, and so we’ll see when they field them, but they’ve also done some highly-skilled, highly-technical kinds of things that concern all of us, and I mentioned two or three of them. So I think having a relationship where we can have these discussions, be able to discuss the areas that we agree on as well as the areas that we disagree on, is really vital. From a long-term strategy, I think it’s probably still – from my perspective it’s too early to understand where China is really going with this. They say it’s defensive; we’ll see. There are some pretty good capabilities there that certainly could be not just defensive, but offensive as well.
MODERATOR: I’m afraid we’ll have to wrap it up there.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Thank you.