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Gen. Dempsey's Media Roundtable in Beijing

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Beijing, China
COLONEL DAVID LAPAN: (In progress.) – is on the – on the record, this press briefing. We’ll get to as many questions as we can. We have roughly 30 minutes to do that. So I’ll ask General Dempsey to make a couple of opening remarks to kind of frame his visit here to the region. And then we’ll take your questions.


GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thanks, I’m General Dempsey, Dave Lapan’s spokesperson. (Laughter.) And I’m happy to join you here today to share some thoughts with you.

I – this is my fourth trip to Asia as chairman. I’ve been chairman – let’s see if I should measure it chronologically or in dog years – but I’ve been – I’ve been chairman for about 19 months now, or so. And this is my fourth trip into the Asia-Pacific region, first trip, of course, to China, and have been afforded great access to senior leaders and – as well as to junior leaders and then those who are future leaders. I – so today, for example, I was at the Aviation Regiment and their aviation school and then spent some time with their National Defense University.

So that’s been the frame of the stop here. I preceded my visit here with a stop in the Republic of Korea and I will leave here and make a stop in Tokyo to visit with my Japanese counterpart.

What are your questions?

COLONEL DAVID LAPAN: All right, Karen (inaudible).

KAREN PARRISH: Sure, sir, how would you characterize the interactions you had today with the cadets? And what did they seem most interested in discussing?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, very different, depending on which cadets you’re – well, the cadets, which are the younger – those that are training to be either maintainers or pilots of aircraft – in an interesting way – and they’ve probably asked me a dozen or more questions. One of the questions was about an issue of kind of geostrategic importance. And 11 of them were about leadership.

It was fascinating, actually. I found them to be genuinely interested in how I describe myself as a leader, what were the attributes I thought were important for –

Q: Will you share a little of that with us, sir?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I mean, they wanted to know the difference between junior-level leadership and senior-level leadership. And you know, my answer was fundamentally the same as I would have described to any junior leader in our country, and 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 you can be – 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.


WEI LAI: Yeah, I had two quick questions. Number one is about Japan –

GEN. DEMPSEY: You can only get one, sorry, man.

Q: – OK, then, about Japan. So do you like to see a hawkish Abe government in Asia-Pacific area or a bit, you know, softer one in your eyes?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t really understand the question, to tell you the truth. Do I –

Q: Because now media are arguing that Abe, the Japanese prime minister, will go along a hawkish way where –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, a hawkish way.

Q: – yeah, holding pretty strong, so would be like –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, I – first of all, I’ve – never give advice to heads of state, that’s – except my own. I am actually – my job is to give advice on military matters to our head of state, President Obama. But I wouldn’t consider it appropriate for me to give advice to Prime Minister Abe.

I will say that it’s very clear to me – and this is part of the conversation that we’ve had here in China – that with power comes responsibility and it’s responsibility, not just for narrow, local issues, but certainly regional. And I would suggest that we are increasingly connected globally. And so how each country – that’s kind of the premise on which we’ve had conversations – and each country will answer that question, you know, in their own interests.

But I think Japan is probably considering its future role, as well as its current role. And I think that’s – ultimately, I think each nation has to do that.

Yes, sir. Oh I got overridden. (Laughter.)

TERRIL JONES: Hi, we’ve, you know, all heard pretty much in the recent months about Chinese cyberintrusions into the United States, but of course the Mandiant report, which led into very excruciating and kind of great detail down to the very building as to what they say is the center of where much of it is emanating from the U.S. – from China against the U.S. and others.

Given that people from President Obama to John Kerry and Tom Donilon and James Clapper have been saying the cybersecurity has risen to the top of the priority between the two countries, how much have you been trying to impress on your homestead interlocutors of the importance of this? And what did you ask them to do, what messages, and how did they respond?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I have the advantage of being able to build on some decisions that have already been taken. And as you know, during Secretary Kerry’s visit and – as well as Mr. Donilon’s visit, the Chinese agreed that we should form a cyber working group. And I reinforced my belief that that was timely and appropriate, because I – 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 and that the nations of the world who rely most on technology and who have the strongest economies will be the most vulnerable to cyber activity.

So I just reinforced the importance, encouraged them to put their best and brightest minds to seek a level of collaboration and transparency with us on that issue, because it will affect both of our futures.


ANNA MULRINE: General – on Monday, General Fang said that, you know, he anticipated the possibility that North Korea could launch a fourth nuclear test. What would be our response in that event?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, when you take the accumulation of North Korean actions, whether it’s a nuclear testing or ballistic missile testing, they are on a path that will certainly increase risk in the region and ultimately could present risk globally. And so when you ask about our response, I mean, our response to past events, it’s pretty clear. We denounce their path toward nuclearization. We renounce that they failed to live up to U.N. Security Council resolutions. Our military posture is one of deterrence and preparedness. And if they were to launch, we do have the capability to defend ourselves, our people, our facilities. And that – we’ve been very clear about that.

I’ve – I will leave here with the belief that the Chinese leadership is as concerned as we are with North Korea’s march toward nuclearization and ballistic missile technology. And they have given us some assurance that they are working on it, as we are.

So, you know, 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.

Q: General, just to follow up, did you get a sense that China has deepened its position at all, has changed its position with regard to North Korea? Is there anything they might begin doing differently there in terms of encouraging North Korea away from a nuclear path?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, actually, China’s been – China’s been very clear that it is one of their – that among their nationals interests is a denuclearized or a non-nuclearized peninsula. And so I don’t think they will – there’s any – there’s no necessity of that changing. I mean, I think that’s right. And your question probably implies whether I know much more about how they’ll deal with it, and I don’t.


Q: You know, there’s been a lot of talk of late of the pivot or, like, people like to see now rebalanced.


WILLIAM WAN: Do you have anything to express on this trip as far as to allies how strong that remains and – to China in terms of reassurances that this is not aimed towards them? Or what is the feel that you got from them as well on what they perceive be – (inaudible) – the rebalancing?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, most of the questions I got today at their National Defense University and a fair share of the questions we discussed in my – in my meetings with senior leaders had to do with our rebalance to the Pacific and seeking greater clarity on what – on what we mean by it.

And I think I was successful in describing it as a – as a long-term process. We’ve never suggested this would be something that would manifest itself overnight, but also that it was – it was a strategic imperative for us to rebalance over time to the Pacific because that’s where all of the future trends are taking us, whether it’s demographic terms or security issues or economic issues.

Furthermore, I tell them this wasn’t about them, meaning China. You know, this – of course they’re a factor in the sense that they are, you know, an economic factor, a security factor and a demographic factor. So of course they were a factor. But this wasn’t a strategy that was aimed at them in any way.

Furthermore, it’s not just about the military instrument of U.S. power, it’s – I pointed out to them that among the first visitors who came here after our – after this strategic change and our rebalancing initiative was announced was Jack Lew, the secretary of the treasury. So this is not just about military.

And finally, I was – I was able to explain to them that in the – that as they – as they seek to achieve a new relationship with the United States, which is something that President Obama and President Xi, as you know, have discussed, that that new relationship would of course be established in the context of our other and enduring relationships in the region and that we would have to work together to – toward that goal.

So it was – it was in every case a very – what I found to be a very dynamic conversation. I think that – I’d like to believe that my trip here has contributed to a greater understanding of what we’re doing and why. But it’s something we’ll have to continue to work over time.


CHRIS BODEEN: Thanks. Could you discuss possible countermeasures that the U.S. may take if cyberattacks continue from China? Any response from them on that issue?

GEN. DEMPSEY: We did not discuss any specificity about measures to be put in place. To establish what we broadly have described as a – as a code of conduct in cyber, most of our time – this is – this kind of goes back to the famous Einstein quote: “If I had 60 minutes to save the world, I should spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and only five minutes solving it.” And I think we’re in that 55 minutes. I think we’re in that period of gaining a common understanding not just – importantly, not just of what’s happening today. But as I – as I’ve told you, cyber continues to evolve, whether we would like it to or not. And I think we’ve all seen that cyber is now a domain in which both state and nonstarter actors operate, and increasingly, private individuals. And I do think without losing – you know, cyber as you know, was invented as an open architecture so that the benefits of free movement of information could be available to all, but there has to be some code of conduct established, lest we all find ourselves – you know, you could see eventually the privatization of cyber activities that would not be a healthy thing for either commerce or security.


ICHIRO KABASAWA: General Dempsey, there’s a tension between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands, and if something happened between the two countries, the U.S. military might be dragged in. From that perspective, what did you tell the leaders – Chinese leaders when you were in meetings?

GEN. DEMPSEY: On the issue of the East China Sea, I – we discussed – you know, they were very candid about their position. I was very candid about ours. And as you know, our position is that we don’t take a position on territorial issues. In the case of Japan in particular, though, I was careful to remind them that we do have certain treaty obligations with Japan that we would honor, and therefore it was in everyone’s best interest that this be resolved peacefully and without military coercion. And so on that basis, I think we fundamentally made our positions clear to each other.


KATHRIN HILLE: Yes, also on the East China Sea issue, we had the impression that over the past month or two, that the close interaction in those waters and in the airspace had receded a bit and had gotten a bit calmer especially when it comes to military involvement. Did you gain any understanding as to why that is, and is that – did you get the impression that that’s also the perception of the Chinese side? And do you that changing any time now (inaudible)?

GEN. DEMPSEY: We didn’t – we didn’t talk about the trends, actually, as much as we talked about the nature of the issue. I will tell you, though, we did – among several outcomes of my discussions with senior leaders, we did talk about the fact that we do encounter each other in the various domains. We encounter each other in the aerial domain. When, for example, we conduct strategic reconnaissance operations, we sometimes encounter the Chinese military. We encounter them at sea as we – as we exercise our right of freedom of navigation in international waters. And what I suggested is that over time, these issues that confront us today, whether it’s East China Sea or South China Sea, that I suspect that we will – well, I suspect – we will encourage them to be resolved through political, economic and diplomatic means. But in the meantime, so that we don’t run the risk of either misperception or miscalculation or mistake that we should have a conversation about rules of behavior in the – in those – in those various domains, and we should have a very clear and reliable communications linkage so that we avoid miscalculation – and I think we – I don’t have agreement yet exactly on how to move toward that strategic communication link that’s always open and always reliable and this kind of code of behavior for when we encounter each other in the various domains, but I’m optimistic we will move in that direction.

Q: OK. And I just have a very quick follow-up on that. Why are you optimistic? I mean, that’s very oldish. I mean, we’ve been talking about that for years.

GEN. DEMPSEY: You mean the rule –

Q: The rules of the road and getting – (inaudible).

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, it might be an old issue but it’s still an important one and one that we’ve reemphasized. I mean, look. Strategically, we – we’re encouraging all parties to resolve these issues peacefully. Until they do, it certainly is a prudent measure to establish, you know, certain rules, left-and-right limits so that as we encounter each other it’s not discovery learning every time.


TING-I TSAI: I’d like to go back to the North Korea. So, very specifically, did you get to discuss about any kind of coordination or cooperation with the North Korea launching for nuclear test or conduct another missile – or did you also get a sense that Chinese believe whatever they are doing will work or not?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No. (Laughter.) No, I mean, you asked – that’s a simple question to – I mean a simple answer to a straightforward question. Did I get any further indication of what our PRC – my PRC counterparts would do, and the answer is no. I think that I will leave here with a renewed sense that they are taking it very seriously. And unlike sometimes the reports that suggest that they’re less interested than they probably should be or that we’d want them to be – I leave here believing they are very interested in trying to contribute to stability on the peninsula, but I didn’t gain any insights into particularly how they would do that.


QIN ZHONGHEI: Also, a follow-up on the Korean peninsula. And from Chinese perspective with – I think the China aspect of that – the U.S. should actually cool down the crisis by showing some gestures of goodwill. And now we see that the Korean peninsula – the situation is not so tense compared with several weeks ago.

So my question is, will the U.S. willing to, you know, show some good gestures for, you know, willing to cooling down the crisis, or will – U.S. will still be so tough on this issue?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you notice how I’m dressed, and so I will keep my answer confined to that which is my responsibility, which is military preparedness. I would hasten to point out that it was not us that changed the status quo on the Korean peninsula. Everything we’ve done has been in response to a provocation.

Now, in responding, most of what we’ve done has been to establish a greater level of defensive preparedness. And at the same time, we have conducted and continue to conduct the prescheduled exercises that we have with not just the Republic of Korea but others in the region, and I have to assert that, again, based on my role as the senior military leader of the United States, I am of a mind and have been throughout my career that the best way to avoid war is to prepare for it.

So we will continue to conduct exercises as necessary in order to maintain our preparedness. Now, when we find one that doesn’t particularly add to our preparedness and our readiness, we’ll consider whether or not to execute it. But my job is to maintain deterrence assurance for our allies and preparedness in the event that deterrence fails.


BARBARA DEMICK: A North Korea follow-up. What do you think the chances are of an accidental miscalculation? There’s been a lot of talk that North Korea could shell another island, South Korea under –

GEN. DEMPSEY: That would hardly be accidental, you know. (Laughs.)

Q: Yeah, well– a robust South Korean response, a conflagration. I mean as –

GEN. DEMPSEY: You mean as far as – so instead of – you’re actually asking about, what’s the risk of escalation?

Q: Escalation.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well, first of all, I will actually go after the part about miscalculation.

Q: Well, that would be a miscalculation on North Korea’s part, which they’ve always assumed that they can get away without –

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s true. Yeah, I think that their past patterns suggest that they may, in fact, believe that they can get away with sort of a cycle of provocations. I would actually, though, suggest that we’re no longer in a period of cyclic provocations where the provocation occurs and then there’s a period of time when concessions are made and then the provocation goes down and then it comes back.

I think we’re in a period of prolonged provocation. And when you look back to about 2008, I think a strong case can be made that since Kim Jong Un began to have greater influence on the – in the – on the peninsula in North Korea that the provocations have been somewhat prolonged. Now, what that means is that I think the risk of miscalculation is higher, and I think the risk of escalation is higher. I think our Republic of Korean allies, by the way, have done a very good job of maintaining their stable and measured response in the face of those provocations. But in a prolonged state of provocation, the risk does increase.


TERRIL JONES: You’re obviously the military expert in this room.

GEN. DEMPSEY: I’ll accept that. (Laughter.)

Q: A lot of us – a lot of us, we talk about – what’s the worst thing that could happen in the East China Sea? We’re seeing this increasing – what appears to be increasing risk of something accidental happening between Japanese and Chinese airplanes and ships, but I don’t know enough about military strategy and logistics and just the way things roll.

I wanted to ask you, what is – what do you think is the biggest danger that might happen if people – if both sides aren’t careful? Is it literally that – uh oh, be careful, two ships might collide and definitely you’ll have an incident, two planes might collide or somebody might shoot across a somebody’s bow – at least interpret it – I mean, from your expert perspective, you know, what is the big danger there?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we – you know, we don’t have a lot of experience in these – in these territorial issues. And I’m not just confining my comments to East China Sea and South China Sea. I mean, there’s— there are – there are issues of territoriality all across the globe. And I think in each case there – you know, there’s always a question of how much control is exerted from the central government and how much control is being taken at the lower leader level. And so I think – you know, I think that the heightened risk is a function of heightened rhetoric that produces – could produce emotional outcomes at the tactical level that could, frankly, get away from control at the central level.

That’s the risk, and that’s why I go back to my comment about us taking a role to try to encourage, you know, rules of behavior in these contexts, especially as they – as they relate to U.S. resources but also to other resources in the region.

COLONEL DAVID LAPAN: Last question. Who hasn’t – yes, ma’am.

FENG SHUO: Hi, thank you. I’d like to ask – moving on to the South China Sea, was there any discussion between you and the Chinese counterparts about China kind of allegedly offering to hold COC discussions with ASEAN countries later this year?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No. You know, we – the answer is no. But I mean, we obviously talked about the issues of sovereignty in the South China Sea. I asserted our position on encouraging, and in fact, counting on all parties to resolve this peacefully. I also asserted that among U.S. national interests is freedom of navigation and that we would continue to be an advocate of freedom of navigation; however these territorial issues are resolved, they must provide for the free passage of goods and materials throughout the region.

And on that basis, we had a productive conversation. But to the specific resolution of these – of these issues, we didn’t – they didn’t share anything with me in that regard.

COLONEL DAVID LAPAN: All right, thank you all.

GEN. DEMPSEY: All right, good to meet you all.