Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave these remarks to the PLA Engineering Academy of Armored Forces in Beijing, China on September 19, 2012.
Thank you very much, General, for that kind introduction.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the entire leadership of the Engineering Academy of the PLA Armored Forces for the invitation to be able to be with you today. This is a particular privilege for me, because many years ago now, I had the opportunity, when I was in college, to go through what was called the ROTC program, which was the training that I received in order to become an officer in the United States Army. And coming to these schools always reminds me of that experience.
I also want to express my great appreciation to the Chinese people for their hospitality, for their kindness during my first trip to this country as the United States secretary of defense. Over the course of my time here in Beijing, I've had a series of very positive, productive, and candid exchanges with your military and civilian leaders, including a session with Vice President Xi just this morning.
These interactions made it clear to me that the leaders of both of our countries are sincerely working towards the same goal: to build a sustained and substantive United States-China defense relationship that supports the broader United States-China cooperative partnership.
This common effort is critical because, as two major powers, and as the world's two largest economies, a strong United States-China partnership will be essential for global security and prosperity in the 21st century.
For that reason, I am truly honored and delighted to speak to so many young PLA officers and cadets here today. One day, one day, it will be your responsibility to help carry the United States-China relationship forward into the future.
A few months ago, I spoke to America's newest sailors and Marines at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. The message I delivered to them is in many ways the same message that I want to give you today. And that message is that one of the keys to peace in the Asia-Pacific region is to build an enduring foundation for military-to-military relations between the United States and China.
That message is based on the belief that our relationship between our two countries holds long-term promise for both of our countries, for the Asia-Pacific region, and for the world. It is based on how much I have seen this relationship grow and transform in the course of my more than four decades in public service.
As a young man, one of my earliest jobs was in the United States government, in the administration of President Richard Nixon. Forty years ago last February, he traveled here to Beijing on an historic trip. It was called "the week that changed the world," a week when our two countries cast aside decades of fear, of division, and estrangement in favor of engagement. That trip set us on the course for the world we know today, a course where our two nations engage in a full range of diplomatic, economic, and security issues, and where our countries' common interests are growing.
Yet despite the distance that we have traveled over the past 40 years, it is clear that this journey is not yet complete, particularly for our two militaries.
In the security realm, we often hear about suspicion and a lack of strategic trust instead of cooperation and engagement. We see the spotlight often times placed on our areas of disagreement instead of the areas where we share common security interests and where there is the potential for us to work together in defense for those common interests.
We must be clear-eyed about the challenges and difficulties that we face as two major powers. We will not agree on every issue that comes before us, but we cannot let those disagreements and those challenges blind us to the great opportunities that exist. If we work together, if we cooperate together, we can solve problems together.
To do that, we need to focus on building confidence and understanding between our two defense establishments, enhancing the frequency and quality of our dialogue and establishing patterns of practical cooperation.
In that spirit of building trust, let me share with you today my thoughts on the role that the United States military wants to play in the Asia-Pacific region in the 21st century, and let me explain how I believe a constructive U.S.-China defense relationship complements that vision.
The broad United States strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is being driven by a simple reality: We recognize that, in the 21st century, America's future security and prosperity will be linked to the security and prosperity for Asia and it will be linked more than in any other region on Earth.
This part of the world is home to many of the largest and most dynamic economies, and it is of growing importance to U.S. diplomats, to our economies, to our development interests, to our security interests. There are also clear threats to regional security, from terrorism to the prospect of natural disasters, from maritime security to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from piracy to drug trafficking.
In response to all of these trends and concerns, in response to these challenges and opportunities, we are increasing our focus and investment in the Asia Pacific across the United States government. We are doing so through expanded trade and economic ties, through increased diplomatic engagement, more development assistance, and through the rebalancing of our military forces, as well.
For the Department of Defense, that means that we are making this region a strategic priority as we begin to emerge from a decade of war.
At a time when we are being forced to make reductions in other areas of our defense budget in order to meet our fiscal responsibilities, we have decided that we are going to enhance our historic role and work with others to strengthen security in the Asia-Pacific region. We will do so by increasing exercises and training with allies and partners and building new defense relationships with a whole range of countries in this region. We are also developing new approaches to military presence and posture across the Asia-Pacific region. We are making investments in the capabilities we need to operate and partner effectively.
As one example, we are enhancing our defense missile [sic - ballistic missile defense] capabilities in this region. Why? Let me make clear that it's only aimed solely at one threat, the threat from North Korea. It is no secret that the United States is deeply concerned about the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles striking our allies, striking the United States, striking our forward-deployed forces, striking our homeland.
Our cooperation with our allies in the region on ballistic missile defense is focused on a nation that has tested nuclear devices, continues to enrich uranium, and continues to test ballistic missiles. These actions are a direct threat to the security of Asia and to the security of the United States. These ballistic missile defense systems are designed to counter that threat and to foster greater peace and stability in this region.
Indeed, the entire purpose of our effort to focus on the Pacific is to help sustain the region's security and prosperity in the future. It is in our interest, it is your interest to have an Asia-Pacific region that is prosperous and that is secure.
Our friends and partners throughout the region recognize that the United States military has a critical role to play in helping to achieve that goal in the 21st century because -- because of the profound role that we had in helping to foster security and prosperity in the 20th century.
For more than six decades, the United States military presence has underwritten the peace and stability of the Western Pacific. America has fought wars and spilled precious blood to counter tyranny to support a system of rules and norms and institutions in Asia that eventually underpinned this region's transformation into an economic powerhouse that it represents today.
During my trips to the Asia-Pacific region over the past year, I've received very positive feedback from a number of countries that seek to enhance their own capabilities in order to strengthen this rules-based order in the future. We've made it very clear that our engagement will continue to be guided by our adherence to a set of basic principles, including the following: one, free and open commerce; two, a just international order that emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of nations and the fidelity to the rule of law; three, open access by all to the shared domains of sea and air and space and cyberspace; and, lastly, resolving disputes peacefully, without coercion or the use of force.
Many countries -- and many millions of people -- in this region have benefited from this rules-based order, and that includes China. China's extraordinary economic growth and its rise as a major power made it a key stakeholder in this system. Over the long term, I believe that it will benefit all of our nations and create opportunities for us to work together to achieve common objectives, particularly in areas like maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and peacekeeping.
But these opportunities won't come to pass unless both of our nations -- and both of our militaries -- work together to seize these opportunities. That is why an essential element of our rebalancing effort is a constructive, bilateral relationship with China. And that is why I will continue to make it a priority for the Department of Defense to expand our defense dialogues, our defense exchanges with China.
We are already seeing momentum building as a result of our renewed dialogue over the last year, not only in high-level visits, like General Liang's trip to the United States in May and my visit here this week, but in regular exchanges between our armed forces at all levels.
Earlier this week, United States and Chinese ships participated in a joint counter-piracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. This is an area of strategic and economic priority to both of our countries, and both the United States and China benefit from ensuring the free flow of commerce through the gulf. This exercise not only gave our two navies the opportunity to increase their capacity to confront the threat of piracy; it gave our sailors the experience of working alongside one another toward a common objective. These kinds of opportunities are invaluable when it comes to building trust between our two militaries.
Therefore, it was my privilege, on behalf of the United States, to invite China to participate in the RIMPAC 2014 exercises. This is the world's largest multilateral naval exercise, held off the shores of Hawaii. I am committed to identifying additional opportunities for Chinese participation in multilateral exercises.
The goal of this engagement is to build a military-to-military relationship that is healthy, that is stable, that's reliable, that's continuous, and that's transparent.
Our vision is for the type of substantive and sustained relationship that builds trust through cooperation. It makes steady progress over time in identifying areas of common interest. It builds channels of communication to improve understanding, manage disagreements effectively, and reduce the risk of miscalculation. Our goal is to make sure that no dispute or misunderstanding escalates into unwanted tensions or conflict.
Ultimately, any strategy that aims to sustain the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region will be judged by whether we can achieve long-term progress in the United States-China relationship.
Now, there are some who see the United States' focus on the Pacific in a different way. They see global security in terms of a zero-sum game, where China's rise will inevitably put it into conflict with the United States.
That view was rejected by President Hu and by President Obama. It is not what our new defense strategy is all about.
Our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt to contain China. It is an attempt to engage China and expand its role in the Pacific. It's about creating a new model in the relationship of our two Pacific powers. It's about renewing and revitalizing our role in a part of the world that is rapidly becoming more critical to our economic, diplomatic, and security interests. And as I've made clear, essential to all of these goals -- essential to these goals is a constructive military-to-military relationship with China.
Let me conclude by noting that, like many Americans, I admire the transformation that China has succeeded in accomplishing over the past decades. I admire all of you for your willingness to serve your nation.
China's rise has brought millions out of poverty and helped to make the world a more prosperous place. I believe that it can also make the world a more secure place. If we work together -- if we work together to build an enduring foundation for military-to-military relations between the United States and China, we can achieve greater prosperity and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Forty years ago, bold leaders who recognized the mutual benefits of cooperation came together to seize these opportunities, and they changed the direction of history in the 20th century. It is now up to us to help ensure that we continue to move in the same direction, towards more cooperation and towards a better and safer future for our children.
My parents were immigrants to the United States and came to America like millions of other immigrants. And the reason they came is because they believed in the American dream of giving their children a better life. They believed that they could give their children a better life. That is not just the American dream. It is China's dream, as well.
It will happen with a strong and constructive relationship between China and the United States. A prosperous and secure Asia-Pacific region is, indeed, the fulfillment of that dream.
Thank you for having me here today.