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Answering The Press about Disputed Territory Between China and Vietnam in Press Conference by General Dempsey and China’s General Fang


May 16, 2014

SOURCE: U.S. State Department

Press Conference by General Dempsey, China’s General Fang

15 May 2014
U.S. Department of Defense
Press Operations
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey
May 15, 2014

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin E. Dempsey and People’s Liberation Army of China Chief of the General Staff General Fang Fenghui

Presenters: Department of Defense Joint Press Conference by General Dempsey and General Fang in the Pentagon Briefing Room
May 15, 2014


We also discussed the tensions in the South China Sea, and how provocative actions can lead to confrontation. These issues need to be resolved through dialogue and international law. We had a refreshingly frank and open discussion on our mutual concerns and differing opinions about the East China Sea, as well as the destabilizing effects, in our view, of North Korean actions. As we discussed last year, as a major regional power it is important for China to model great power by contributing to stability in the region and we committed to work with each other toward that end.

Today’s meetings were productive. We made progress on important issues.

General Fang?

GENERAL FANG FENGHUI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Dear friends from the press, good afternoon.

This morning, General Dempsey and I held a large-scale meeting and a one-on-one meeting as well in which we exchanged constructive views on a number of important issues. We discussed our military relationship and our broader bilateral relationship, our cooperation on counter-terrorism and counter-piracy. We talked about Diaoyu Islands, and the current situation in the South China Sea.

We agreed on many issues, just to name a few, to carry out substantive consultation in earlier states on establishing a mechanism for mutual notification of major military activities and devising standards of behavior for air and sea military safety in a maritime domain on the high sea, to conduct more humanitarian assistance and disaster relief life force during the exercise, to establish the counterpart dialogue between the two strategic planning departments, to continue advancing the army-to-army dialogue mechanism, to upgrade the defense telephone link between chief of PLA general staff and the chairman of U.S. joint chiefs of staff into a secured video teleconferencing system, and to explore the possibility of conducting joint exercise and training in the third country.

Thank you.

And I would like also to hope that United States could hold a objective view on the issues of the South China Sea and the East China Sea, because we believe the ones that are provoking those issues in the South China Sea, it’s not China, but a certain countries that are attempting to gain their own interest because they believe China is now a developing its economy, and United States is adopting this Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy.

Thank you.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for two questions today. The first will go to Phil Stewart from Reuters.

Q: OK. My questions set around Vietnam. First, for General Fang, is the PLA digging in to defend the oil rig for the long term, or given the deadly protests in Vietnam, is China ready to pull the rig back and take steps to de-escalate?

Lastly, do you think U.S. efforts — you just spoke about the Asia pivot. Do you think U.S. efforts to deepen military ties in the region are emboldening Hanoi and emboldening U.S. allies?

And for General Dempsey, could you please be explicit? You spoke about provocative actions in your opening remarks. Do you believe China’s behavior in these — in this issue with Vietnam has been provocative, and that China should accept some blame for the protests in Vietnam?

Did you call on China to pull back? And do you see the risk of conflict in the East and South China Seas increasing?

GEN. FANG (through translator): Thank you for your question. Actually, this question, this issue has been discussed during the meeting this morning between General Dempsey and I.

First, I have to put a very important prerequisite or precondition before answering your question.

China is conducting the exploitation activity in — within 12 nautical miles of the Zhongjian Islands which is part of the Paracel Islands. And this is an activity conducted within our territorial water.

And secondly, the related countries in the South — in the South China Sea region have drilled actually many oil wells in the South China Sea, but China has never drilled even one. From this single fact, we can see how much restraint China has exercised. And the purpose of this restraint is to keep — to maintain the stability of the South China Sea region.

We have an enduring position of putting aside disputes and achieve common exploitation. But while China is holding this position, other nations are drilling oil wells in this region. So that’s — that is the status quo. And I have to underscore it is only under this background that we are conducting that exploitation activity within the Zhongjian island.

Therefore, it is a very normal behavior for China to conduct this drilling activity within our own territorial water. And under that background, Vietnam has sent — dispatched vessels and ships for disruption of that activity. And that is something that we are not able to accept.

What we are going to do is to make sure the safety of the oil rig and ensure the operation keep going on. I think I’ve made my point quite clear, and I think it’s quite clear to now that who is conducting normal activity and who is disrupting it.

China actually has a very prudent attitude when it comes to activities — similar activities as drilling an oil well. The location of this drilling activity has been carefully selected so that it would not — we believe it would not raise too much disputes.

But we don’t quite understand why there are no comments from the outside when other nations are drilling so many oil wells in the region. But when China starts to do the drilling, we instantly become a threat to the region.

I think the external world should view this issue in objective and fair manner. I don’t believe there is any problem for China to do this drilling activity within our own territorial water. And we will make sure that this will be successfully drilled and not be interference or disrupted by external factors.

And actually this issue also needs the help from our press — our friends from the press because if our friends from the press can view this issue in objective manner, it would help the ultimate solution or properly handling of the issue.

In recent time, the Vietnam side has been contacting us in the multiple channels. And we will properly handle this issue but only on the basis that we will unswervingly fulfill this drilling activity.

And second part of your question I think is also very important for the American’s Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. We noticed the American position which has been iterated for many times, that this strategy is not targeted at China. However, the fact is our neighboring countries did — some of our neighboring countries did try to use this opportunity of the rebalancing strategy of United States, did something that we believe were not supposed to do and stir up some of the problems which actually make the South China Sea and East China Sea not so calm as before.

And the same situation took place in the South China Sea as well.

And this behavior also makes the South China Sea not calm as it was before. I have said quite a lot, and I think I’ve my point clearly, that all these issues, I don’t believe the responsibility lie on the Chinese side. We always propose to adopt a policy of putting aside disputes, and achieve common exploitation by doing that, we hope that related nations can share the resources of the South China Sea. But certain countries believe that China would now focus on our economic developments and are trying to maintain the window of strategic opportunity, therefore, they believe it is opportunity for them to make the provocation, but we are not afraid of that.

We do not make trouble. We do not create trouble. But we are not afraid of trouble. In matters, issues that relate to sovereignty, territorial integrity, we — our attitude has been firm. We … we can fulfill what we have said, and I want to underscore, finally, that for the territory, which has passed down by our ancestors into the hands of our generation, we cannot afford to lose an inch.

Thank you very much General Dempsey for your patience. Now I turn the floor to you.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, no sir, thank you for the time to formulate my answer. (Laughter)

So, I hope it’s a good one right?

Look, out of respect for my guest, I won’t share with you exactly what we said to each other, but I will speak to the issues. We talked about the fact that we have to acknowledge that there are disputes, territorial disputes that are in play here.

We spoke about the fact that the use of military assets to resolve disputes is provocative and it does increase risk.

We had a rich discussion about what exactly is the status quo, and who has been seeking to change it?

We spoke about second and third order effects because in an interesting way, the — in this century with the proliferation of information, it’s not possible to contain issues in any particular domain, so issues in the maritime domain quickly become issues — issues afloat, quickly become issues ashore, as we’ve seen today in Vietnam.

We made note of the ongoing negotiations, and we made note of our — of the alliance obligations of the United States.

And that was the answer that it took me time to formulate.

STAFF: Ok. Last question goes to Mu Dong from Xinhua.

Q: (through translator) I have actually two questions goes to each generals. The first general goes to — the first question goes to General Fang. In recent times, the security situation in Asia-Pacific has undergone complicated changes. A lot of hotspot and sensitive issues have attracted — attracted to the tension of the world.

General Fang, what is your view on that?

And General Dempsey, given the current situation in Asia-Pacific region, will be any adjustment in — within the United States rebalancing strategy to Asia-Pacific? Thank you.

GEN. FANG (through translator): I guess I will answer this round again, unfortunately no time to formulate my answer. If you don’t mind General Dempsey I will take this question first.


GEN. FANG (through translator): I think part of my answer was embedded in my answer to the Reuters question.

But I — anyway, I will also make a few points here. The first is that I believe the Asia-Pacific current situation is stable generally speaking, because we do not see wars in this region like wars taking place in other regions.

And I would also believe that the relationship between China and United States and between our two militaries are very important in maintaining the peace and stability in the region.

Just as I stated in my opening remarks, that president — the two presidents of our countries have reached important consensus in building a new model of bilateral relationship, as well as a military relationship, that the two countries and two militaries should not engage into conflicts or confrontation, but rather base our relationship on mutual respect and willing cooperation.

I think that — actually this is the key to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific. And I believe we can successfully do that. Our relationship could become the ballast stone that — for maintaining the regional peace and stability.

But just as you said, that there are certain unsafe and unstable factors within the region, but just as I put it in my answer to the previous question, that I believe all those disputes or issues that are related to China are not provoked by China.


And, thirdly, I believe there are certain disputes in the South China Sea that also require us to properly handle.

And before I conclude, may I underscore that China is a peace-loving country. We stick to a peaceful development and a defensive national defense policy. When President Xi Jinping visited Europe not long ago, he stated that China is a lion that has awakened, but this is a peace — this is a peaceful, cordial and civilized lion.

And I firmly believe that a peaceful, stable and prosperous China will contribute to the regional peace and stability.

Thank you. I’ve finished my comments.

GEN. DEMPSEY: So, you asked what would draw us into the Pacific more deeply, and I think there’s things that we will do because we should be doing them and can be doing them and in particular as we gain some capacity after 12 years of conflict in the Middle East.

And why? Well, freedom of navigation, access to free markets, stability, partners old and new, and training.

And we will respond to threats. And most recently and most notably, of course, is the threat posed from North Korea. In response to which we’ve deployed ballistic missile defense assets and other capabilities.

So we’ll go because we can and should, and we’ll go because we have to.

STAFF: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.


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