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U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Pacific security issues: Why is China's defense spending growing?, 2005

Secretary Rumsfeld addressed a gathering of defense ministers at the "Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore.
June 4, 2005

Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, Saturday, June 04, 2005

I hope to be here next year, and certainly I congratulate you on the progress of this conference.  It’s important.  It’s important to discuss major issues of the day.

Ministers, distinguished officials, ladies and gentleman, senior military officials.  It is a pleasure to be back in this energetic and historic city.

I certainly want to express my appreciation to the people of Singapore for their gracious hospitality and for their long friendship with the American people.

I must say the dinner that was hosted last evening by the Singapore government was most gracious.

A central question discussed at these forums is how best to increase security and stability in the Pacific region.  Today I want to talk a bit about that -- and about the many areas of cooperation between the U.S. and our partners here, and about the serious challenges that remain.

Much has changed in the world since we met here last year.  The past year has been a time of promise as the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, and elsewhere have demanded at ballot boxes the freedom that they deserve.  Dictatorships around the world are losing sway, as more and more people recognize the greater opportunities a life of freedom affords -- economic freedom and political freedom as well.

           This time of opportunity for millions, regrettably, has also been a time of tragedy for others -- particularly those in the path of the tsunami that killed more than 170,000 in Southeast Asia, and displaced more than a million more.

The global relief effort involved many nations that are represented here today.  There are numerous, poignant examples:

  • India not only met the needs of its own people; but, to its credit, it also sent troops to help to distribute aid in Sri Lanka;
  • Thailand, despite its own casualties and tragedy, quickly consented to the use of its bases to serve as the combined support facilities for the relief efforts;
  • Malaysia made its airfields available, facilitating logistical support; and
  • Singapore was first on the scene with life saving aid, offering the use of its airfields and port facilities.

            Years of bilateral and multilateral meetings and cooperative operations made possible this swift, team response -- as America’s military joined quickly with Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and many others to provide assistance. 

From time to time, some question the priority America places on its Pacific partnerships.  Yet the atmosphere in the tsunami’s aftermath -- as well as the recent earthquake in Nias -- demonstrated again that whenever friends and allies in this region confront threats or hardship -- whether caused by man or by nature -- we stand at their side.  

These long relationships among nations -- the nations of the Pacific -- led many in this hemisphere to pledge support to the American people after the attacks of 9/11.  And we are deeply grateful.  I am confident that our long friendships will continue to unite us against the common threats ahead.

Consider a few of the important activities in which the U.S. and our Pacific partners are currently engaged:

  • The Proliferation Security Initiative -- with some 60 nations now working together to try to keep the world’s most dangerous weapons from the enemies of civil societies;
  • The Maritime Security Initiative, combating piracy, drug smuggling, and human trafficking;
  • An unprecedented amount of trade;
  • Working together to combat the Avian Flu;
  • Military-to-military partnerships on a bilateral basis;
  • A repositioning of U.S. forces worldwide that will significantly increase our capabilities in support of our friends and allies in this region;
  • Missile defense capabilities, spearheaded through partnerships with allies like Japan and Australia, and which are now capable of limited defensive operations against a ballistic missile threat; and
  • The transformation of our respective militaries to confront the distinct threats of a new and dangerous era.

            Indeed, the benefits that come from transforming our militaries were made clear after last year’s tsunami.  The U.S. Navy’s emphasis on improving its surge capabilities, landing troops amphibiously, and supporting them indefinitely from the sea proved critical to sustaining the relief effort across the region and in saving lives.

Credit for this, of course, belongs to the American people who invested in these capabilities over many decades.  Due to their foresight, the U.S. Navy ships were able to reach Sumatra just five days after the order to sail, arriving with equipment that proved ideal for delivering life-saving supplies.  The United States values working with other militaries seeking to undergo similar transformations that can benefit future humanitarian and security initiatives.

Perhaps the greatest impetus for modernization and cooperation is the specter of lethal threats confronting all free nations.  Among them is the toxic combination of dangerous weapons, rogue regimes that seek to export those weapons, and violent extremists determined to destabilize civilized societies and kill men, women, and children.

There is another threat that bears mentioning as well -- the specter of trade barriers -- barriers that can impede economic progress and, in turn, can threaten democratic governance.

It may seem a bit unusual for a Secretary of Defense to speak about trade.  But because security, and economic opportunity, and political reform are so interdependent, any one of the three is unlikely to endure and succeed without the others.

A nation that expects its people to unleash their productive energies into the economy -- but stifles free expression --  will eventually have to choose between tyranny and progress.  A society that supports political reform -- but fails to protect its citizens or provide security for them -- encourages instability and civil strife.  And a secure state that permits neither political nor economic freedom is a system that, in the end, may fall to its understandably restive people.

No system of government is perfect.  And every nation has its own history, and its own culture, and its own approach.  And there is no one model of government that is right for every country.  But a look across the globe shows that societies that encourage free markets and political systems are generally the societies where the people have the greatest opportunities.  Most of the nations in the Asia-Pacific region understand that very well.  Their modern histories are testaments to the benefits of self-government, of political freedom, and of de-regulated economic systems.  Our host country is one excellent example  -- one model -- of economic success.

Japan is another example.  Sixty years ago, an American Ambassador to Japan -- echoing the conventional wisdom of the times -- confidently told President Harry S. Truman that “democracy in Japan will never work.”  Today, Japan is one of the world’s model democracies, with one of the largest economies in the world.

Perhaps nowhere is the difference between freedom and tyranny more vividly demonstrated than on the Korean peninsula.

I keep on my desk under a glass a satellite photograph of the Korean peninsula taken at night.  You can see very clearly that light covers most, if not all, of the peninsula’s southern half, below the demilitarized zone, reflecting a nation with energy, a thriving economy and a vibrant democracy.  And then you look to the north of the demilitarized zone, where all you see is darkness -- except for a single pinprick of light in Pyongyang, the capital.  The same people in the north and the south.  The same resources in the north and the south.  The difference is freedom -- political freedom and economic freedom.

The contrast on the ground is even more vivid, and more profound.  The Republic of Korea is an example of the dynamism of free people and free markets.

By comparison, consider North Korea’s Stalinist regime, where:

  • The children and grandchildren of dissidents are pressed into labor;
  • Refugees who escape are kidnapped from foreign countries; and
  • Where starving citizens search barren fields for individual grains. 

           A European doctor who spent many months treating children in North Korea said:  “There are two worlds in North Korea:  one for the senior military and the elite; and a living hell for the rest.”

Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions threaten the security and stability of the region, and because of their record of proliferation, it threatens the world.  President Bush and the other four leaders have urged the regime to return to the Six-Party talks.

The United States also urges the regime to embrace the openness and freedom that have helped so many of its neighbors thrive.

One nation can make a notable contribution in persuading North Korea to return to the Six-Party talks, and that is China.

The United States and many other nations in the region seek to cooperate with China in many fields -- diplomacy, economics, global security.  Many of our nations support the development of Asia-Pacific structures that advance the goal of a region that is peaceful, prosperous, and free.  Multilateral engagement is vital.  China can be an important part of that cooperation.

Asia-Pacific forums are most effective in my view when they are inclusive, rather than exclusive, and when they do not detract from other existing regional organizations.  Forums that exclude can hinder efforts to find common solutions.  Inclusiveness helps to ensure transparency on security issues among nations.  And I believe transparency is critical to fostering trust and diffusing suspicion.

Although the Cold War is over, this region, unfortunately, is still burdened by some old rivalries; and military budgets are escalating in some quarters.  These are matters that should be of concern.

China’s emergence is an important new reality in this era.

Indeed, the world would welcome a China committed to peaceful solutions and whose industrious and well-educated people contribute to international peace and mutual prosperity.

A candid discussion of China, however, cannot neglect to mention areas of concern to the region.

The U.S. Congress requires that the U.S. Department of Defense report annually on China’s perceived military strategy and its military modernization.  The Department’s 2005 report is scheduled to be released soon.

           Among other things, the report concludes that China’s defense expenditures are much higher than Chinese officials have published.  It is estimated that China’s is the third largest military budget in the world, and clearly the largest in Asia.

China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region.  China also is improving its ability to project power, and developing advanced systems of military technology.

Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder:

  • Why this growing investment?
  • Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?
  • Why these continuing robust deployments?

            Though China’s economic growth has kept pace with its military spending, it is to be noted that a growth in political freedom has not yet followed suit.  With a system that encouraged enterprise and free expression, China would appear more a welcome partner and provide even greater economic opportunities for the Chinese people.

China has important decisions to make about its goals and its future.  Ultimately, China likely will need to embrace some form of a more open and representative government if it is to fully achieve the political and economic benefits to which its people aspire.

One final point.  It was suggested that my theme for this conference might be:  “Asia-Pacific Security Beyond the Global War on Terror.”

But that might have suggested that the War on Terror  -- the struggle against extremism -- is over.  It is not over.  Violent extremists continue to pose a danger to civilized nations, and we need to work together to recognize that the threat is a serious one.

The United States is working with many of the nations represented here in this room in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, helping their people build countries that will no longer pose a threat to the international order.  

Since we met here last June, millions of Afghans and Iraqis have defied terrorists’ threats and cast their votes for futures free of terrorism and extremism.

This defiance has sent a powerful message to their neighbors in the region and, it should be added, it sent a powerful message to skeptics around the globe.  And there have been a great many of them!

Yet despite the past year’s elections, some still question whether such breathtaking transformations are really possible.  And indeed there are many challenges still ahead on the road to democracy  --  as has always been the case.

But for those questioning whether such transformation is possible, I suggest they come to Asia.

Sixty years ago, this continent was the scene of the Second World War’s final battles.  Many nations in the region were not free, and they endured civil strife.  But today, the nations of the Asia-Pacific region are among the world’s fastest-growing centers for opportunity, for prosperity, and for knowledge -- which is clearly a tribute to the people of this region.

The United States will stand with our friends and allies here through the challenges that lie ahead.  It has never been more clear but that the great sweep of human history is for freedom.  And the United States is privileged to have formed close bonds with so many Pacific partners who also stand on freedom’s side.  And history will prove once again that freedom is the side to be on.  Let there be no doubt.

Thank you.  I’d be happy to respond to some questions.