Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has led three rounds of talks with Chinese leaders as part of a so-called “senior dialogue.” He spoke in March with national security reporter Bill Gertz. Excerpts of that discussion:
Question: You’ve recently held talks with Chinese leaders. How have the talks gone regarding the national security issues?
Answer: It’s really a combination of political, economic and security issues. We’re getting them to consider more of their obligations in the international system. And so, the discussion varies but it will certainly cover security topics. They tend to … cover regional and global issues as much as bilateral ones.
The three main topics I discussed in a recent visit were Iran, North Korea and some of the economic dimensions in the context of President Hu [Jintao]’s trip.
In terms of bilateral national security, it’s focused on … the fact that as they expand and modernize their military they need to recognize that this is going to raise concerns, not only with the us but with others around the world, and we are urging them to be transparent about budget process, their strategy, their objectives.
Q: Some would say China is playing us along and ultimately holds a secret view that it cannot hold stakes with the United States. Do you get that sense at all?
A: No, I don’t. On the one hand, they appreciate the recognition of their growing influence and the respect that comes with the fact that we’re saying after 25 years of trying to integrate them in the world system, they are now players in the world system. I’m saying, “What is the purpose of integration? What are the responsibilities you have?” They appreciate that. I don’t get a sense that they don’t feel they can work with the United States, but I think they, of course, want to assess under what terms and whose rules.
Q: That’s the hedge strategy question. Can you elaborate?
A: On the hedge point, I’m partly saying to them, “Look, if you are not transparent as you grow and you become more influential and you add to your military, you will recognize that others are going to respond to that. And if you are not transparent, if you’re not emphasizing cooperation with people, they’re going to respond in ways that build their defenses, not only their own military defenses but how they work with others.”
That is also part of the message for China, which is that others are going to hedge, whether it be India or Southeast Asia or others if they’re uncertain about China.
Q: I’ve identified more than 17 things the United States is doing on security issues in Asia: moving carriers, moving ballistic-missile submarines, increasing training and other things that are part of the hedge strategy. Has China addressed this issue?
A: We haven’t discussed our specific set of military postures, other than to say that I’ve been more on the offensive. I’ve sort of said, “Look, if you guys develop your military, you’re going to get these sort of reactions to us.” The type [of] changes that you are referring to are probably matters of degree to them. In other words, our military presence in the Asia Pacific is already so significant, I’m not sure they would see those as notable shifts. But I don’t know. It just hasn’t come up that way.