PHILLIPINES–ENEWSPF)—August 30, 2013.
STAFF: National Defense Secretary, Honorable Voltaire Tuvera Gazmin, again good morning, sirs. Our friends from media. We will start today’s press conference with opening statements from the two secretaries. Ladies and gentlemen, the opening statement of the Honorable Secretary Chuck Hagel. Sir?
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Good morning.
It’s a pleasure to be back here in the Philippines at the conclusion of my second trip to Asia as secretary of defense, one that has taken me to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and now here.
I have been to the Philippines many times over the years. I first started coming to the Philippines in the mid-, late 1980s, when I was president of the World USO. And as a United States senator, I visited the Philippines often.
I first learned about the Philippines from my father, who was here during World War II and spent some time at Clark Airfield. He was a radio operator, tail-gunner on a B-25 and has many, many pictures of his experience here. He loved the Filipino people. He loved this country. And I have always been somewhat influenced by my father’s early assessment, but I can tell you that, if he were alive today, I would tell him that I wholly agree with that assessment of this country and the people here in this country.
This morning, I had a very productive meeting with President Aquino. And I look forward to meeting again with Secretary of National Defense Gazmin, who has spent some time at the ASEAN conference and I saw the secretary at the Shangri-La Dialogue and saw him in Washington, so we’ve — we’ve seen a lot of each other over the last few months, and I appreciate very much his time this morning.
I’ll also have an opportunity to meet with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs [Albert F.] del Rosario, and I look forward to that meeting, as well.
In my meeting with President Aquino, I noted that the deep and unbreakable alliance between the United States and the Philippines is an anchor for peace and stability and prosperity in this region. Our close ties to the Philippines have been forged through a history of shared sacrifice and common purpose. And continuing to strengthen the close partnership between our nations is an important part of America’s long-term strategy of rebalancing in the Asia Pacific.
One theme that I want to emphasize is that the United States is committed to the mutual defense treaty between our nations. It was borne out of Americans and Filipinos fighting shoulder-to-shoulder during World War II. And it has formed the foundation of the U.S.-Philippine security relationship for more than 60 years.
In the spirit of that treaty, and its continuing relevance today, President Aquino and I reaffirmed the progress being made in the ongoing discussions for our framework agreement. This agreement will strengthen cooperation between our two militaries and help them work together more effectively, so both now and the future that relationship will strengthen.
This progress is welcome and encouraging. I noted that our negotiating teams are working hard to finish the framework agreement in the near future. The United States does not seek permanent bases in the Philippines. That would represent a return to an outdated Cold War mentality. Instead, we are using a new model of military-to-military cooperation befitting two great allies and friends, and looking to increase our rotational presence here, as we have done recently in Singapore and Australia. Such an arrangement would benefit both our militaries by increasing our ability to train and operate together.
Deepening engagement opportunities between our forces would further support President Aquino’s defense modernization agenda. The United States has a great deal of experience in building a modern military and we would like to share what we’ve learned with our Filipino allies.
I also discussed with President Aquino — and intend to discuss with the ministers — the situation in the South China Sea, an issue which the United States, our allies, partners, and friends in this part of the world hope will be resolved peacefully and without coercion.
The United States supports ASEAN efforts to negotiate a South China Sea code of conduct, which will help peacefully manage disagreements and tensions arising from competing territorial and maritime claims. In the meantime, we encourage nations to peacefully resolve their disputes through internationally accepted mechanisms in accordance with international law, including the Law of the Sea Treaty, and without coercion or militarized attempts to alter the status quo. The United States appreciates the Philippines’ efforts to solve its dispute through peaceful means.
I’ll close by observing that this has been a very productive trip for me to Southeast Asia. As the United States rebalance to the Asia Pacific makes clear, this region is very important to America’s economic, strategic and security interests, both now and in the years to come. So I look forward to continuing our engagement in the region, as much as I know President Obama is looking forward to his upcoming visit.
Thank you very much.
STAFF: Thank you, Secretary Hagel, sir.
Ladies and gentlemen, the opening statement of Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. Sir?
SECRETARY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE VOLTAIRE GAZMIN: Thank you. Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen, today we mark another milestone in Philippines-U.S. defense relations. The visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Philippines coincides with an important date for Philippines-U.S. defense relations, for it was on 30 August 1951 that the mutual defense treaty was signed. Today, therefore, is the 62nd anniversary of the treaty.
The defense relations between our two countries have evolved since then. From military-to-military relations between the armed forces of the Philippines and the U.S. Pacific Command, we have begun conducting policy consultations between our defense establishments.
In addition to the bilateral strategic dialogue between senior officials from the defense and foreign affairs departments of both countries, which was first held in 2011, we also had the two-plus-two ministerial consultations between the secretaries of the Philippine and U.S. Defense and Foreign Affairs Departments in April 2012. Our alliance remains relevant today, as it was before. As we have reached a critical juncture in our alliance, where concerns on traditional and non-traditional security issues have begun intertwined, the Philippines and the U.S. continue to seek ways to develop each other’s capabilities to address security challenges of mutual concern and contribute to regional peace and stability.
As fellow members of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus, or the ADMM-Plus, which was convened for the second time yesterday in Brunei Darussalam, the defense establishments of our two countries deem it important to enhance our relations not only as allies, but also as fellow stakeholders of regional security.
Today, we focus on key areas of cooperation, including maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response, and cyber security, and information-sharing.
Indeed, after more than 60 years, the alliance between the Philippines and the U.S. remain relevant as we continue to enhance our capacity to address current concerns and emerging security issues. Thus, we shall continue to work closely to promote our common interests, as well as peace and stability in the region.
STAFF: Thank you, Secretary Gazmin, sir. May we kindly remind you of some ground rules before we open the floor for your queries? Our secretaries will entertain four questions, two from the international media and two from our local media. We will be calling you alternately.
Our first question will come from Mr. Larry Abramson of NPR.
Q: Thank you. My question is for Secretary Hagel. Sir, is there anything that the Assad regime can do right now to take the military option off the table at this late hour?
SEC. HAGEL: I have not been informed of any change in the Assad regime’s position on any issue. So I deal with the reality of what we have. I don’t speculate on hypothetical situations. I think you know where the United States government is and our analysis of what happened in Syria, as well as most nations of the world condemning the use of chemical weapons and our options as we continue to consult with our allies. We’ll further develop the facts and intelligence on what happened.
STAFF: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Larry. Our next question will come from the Malacanang Press Corps, Joyce Panares of Manila Standard.
Q: Hello, Secretary. Secretary Hagel, can you just give us more details on President Obama’s upcoming visit to the Philippines? And also, could you give your comment on observations that an increased rotational presence of the U.S. in the region would provoke China even more? Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. On President Obama’s upcoming trip to the region, I’ll leave that to the White House and when and how they want to announce the specifics of that trip, except to say that I spoke with the president, and he is very much looking forward to his trip to Southeast Asia. And I know that the White House is preparing for that and his meetings, a lot to discuss. So, again, I’ll leave that to the White House on the specifics.
Second, regarding China, the defense minister of China attended the ASEAN-Plus meeting in Brunei the last two days. He was in Washington about 10 days ago. I spend most of the day with him and many of his senior military leaders.
I think, clearly, as was indicated to me, that — and the Chinese have said this, and I — I don’t speak for the Chinese government, but they clearly understand, like we all do, that this world is interconnected and all powers must develop relationships and get along with each other for their own economic development, for stability, security, peace. You cannot have growth and development and possibilities for the future and your children without stability, without security, without resolving disputes through war.
So I welcome — and I think the ASEAN nations welcome — China’s participation in these institutions and organizations, to find opportunities to be able to build platforms where you can deal directly with disagreements and with disputes in a peaceful way and hopefully moving toward a consensus of resolution. That’s the way of the future for nations. And I think to have China as a responsible partner of many of these institutions and international organizations is important. And I suspect they see it in their self-interest, as well.
STAFF: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Joyce. Our next question will come from Mr. Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal.
Q: Mr. Hagel, first question to you. You said this would be an international collaboration, the potential strikes in Syria, but with Britain voting against a strike, is that still possible? And also, given the British position, do you have a sense that Congress — congressional support for action remains strong? Did you convince them in your call with congressional leaders today?
And to Secretary Gazmin, with the discussions of a rotational U.S. presence in the Philippines, are you open to a return to Subic Bay? Or would you like to see the U.S. forces in a more remote location? Thanks.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, Julian. Let me take the British piece of the question first. First, every nation has a responsibility to make their own decisions. And we respect that of any nation. We are continuing to consult with the British, as we are with all of our allies and partners, and that consultation includes ways forward together on a response to this chemical weapons attack in Syria.
As to — and I might add one additional piece of the British decision, which I have not seen the specifics of — I’m aware of the vote — the British have been very strong in condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. And that vote in the parliament doesn’t change that. And that’s a very significant position for any nation to take publicly. We’ll continue to work with Britain and consult with Britain, as we are with all our allies.
As to an international effort and collaboration, it is the goal of President Obama and our government to — whatever decision is taken — that it be an international collaboration and effort. I don’t know of many responsible governments around the world, if any, that have not spoken out in violent opposition to use of chemical weapons on innocent people. It violates the very base humanitarian standard of human conduct and governments’ behavior.
So I don’t think there’s any question about that. There are other questions, and legitimate questions. So our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together. And I think you’re seeing a number of countries say publicly — state their position on the use of chemical weapons. We’ll continue to consult with our allies and our partners and friends on this.
As to your question on the Congress, I did participate with some senior members of the Obama administration this morning on an hour-and-a-half conference call with a number of both House and Senate Republican and Democrat leaders on Syria.
First, I — as I did on the conference call — thanked them for their analysis, their thoughts, their time. The Congress, like in any democracy, is important to this process. Their views are critically important. There are many members of the Congress who are very experienced leaders.
So it’s important that we coordinate with the Congress, as we will continue to do. We reach out to get their thoughts on this issue. We will continue to do that.
The objective of the call today was not to convince anyone of anything. The objective was to give the leaders of the Congress an update on our thinking, on where we are on this issue, and just as importantly, seek their advice, seek their opinions on a way forward. Thank you.
SEC. GAZMIN: You talk about the openness to Subic, and Subic Bay is one of the facilities that was mentioned as for U.S. forces to access. And right now, we are — as soon as the framework agreement is complete, we will provide the necessary access to all these facilities. This is not limited only to Subic, but to Philippine military facilities, if necessary.
Now, you talk about increased presence. During our two-plus-two meeting with the two secretaries, foreign affairs and Department of Defense, we talk about high-value, high-impact projects, which necessarily increases the participation of forces. So we suggested enhanced engagement with U.S. forces, which necessarily would mean more forces and more engagements.
STAFF: Thank you, sirs. Thank you, Julian. Our last question will come from Charmaine Deogracias of NHK.
Q: Good morning. The U.S. has already made clear what pivot to Asia means, but then we would like to know how this pivot will be implemented and reflected in the new deal between the Philippines and the U.S. on increased rotational presence — that’s one — its impact on maritime security in the South China Sea, and how the events in Syria will affect this pivot to Asia.
SEC. HAGEL: May I ask for clarification? Are you talking about the framework agreement?
Q: Yeah. How the pivot to Asia will be implemented and reflected in the new deal and then — is that what we want — yeah, the rebalancing, all right, if you want to rephrase it. Sorry.
SEC. HAGEL: Oh, that’s what —
Q: Sorry. It’s more “pivot” to us.
SEC. HAGEL: I got you. Okay. Well, first, where the United States begins here is full recognition of the friendship, the alliance, the partnership between our two countries. As the secretary noted in his remarks, we have had a security treaty for a long time. And we respect the Philippines’ sovereignty and making their own decisions, their own way for their own reasons.
But the Philippines, for the United States, has been a key treaty ally and partner for many years. And so you — we build on that relationship. And I think the fact is that the minimum credible defense approach that the Philippines is adhering to and taking is one that we agree with and we work with, want to work with.
There are common interests that we have and have had for both the Philippines and the United States, their economic interests, their security interests, environmental interests, their disaster, humanitarian interests. We worked together on these issues for many years.
So what we have tried to do, both of our countries, is find a way forward into the future where we can build on those common interests in this alliance, friendship and partnership that we’ve had. And the approach that you specifically referred to, the rotational approach that I noted in my comments, which is the approach that we are currently using in Singapore, Australia, I think is one that is in the interest, certainly, of the United States. The Filipinos will decide whether they believe that’s in their interests or not. We’re already working together on ship repair, Subic. So there are already many interests that are there and developing and deepening, but it has to be in the interest of everyone.
As to how this would relate to Syria, well, as I have said in the rebalance to the Asia Pacific for the United States, it should not be misunderstood that this is a retreat of the United States from other parts of the world. It’s not. It’s essentially what it says and what it means. It’s a rebalancing of our efforts, our priorities, our assets, resources, to — where we believe the future is going to develop most significantly for us in our own national interest.
The United States has been a Pacific power for many, many years. That’s not new. These relationships in the Asia Pacific are not new. But threats change. Dynamics change. The world shifts. Demographics shift. We’re experiencing maybe historic economic diffusion in the world. The world’s never seen anything like this.
Much of that is coming from Asia, from the Pacific, sea lanes. So I think you add all of that up, and it is incorporated in the larger framework of the agreements that we’re working on now.
STAFF: Thank you, sir.