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Moderator: Good afternoon everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I’m Zia Syed, the Hub Director, and I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and the United States. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, General David L. Goldfein; and Pacific Air Forces Commander (PACAF), General Charles Q. Brown, Jr.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from General Goldfein, then we will turn to your questions. We’ll try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have.
We have quite a few journalists on the line, so please, we’d ask that you limit your questions to just one question so others can participate.
Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to General Goldfein.
General Goldfein: Thank you. And thanks to you all for taking the time to do this. This trip has been something we’ve been planning for over a year. It’s actually the only trip that I will take as Chief of Staff of the Air Force to the Pacific, and it was very important that my first stop be here in the Philippines.
This is a longstanding alliance between the United States and the Philippines, and it really has contributed to peace, stability, prosperity in this region for over 60 years. And we look to the Philippines and its desire to build a more credible defense. I’m excited to hear about the Philippine Air Forces 2028 Plan that I just had a chance to go over with the Air Chief. He is one of the most respected Air Chiefs among all of the international Air Chiefs. It was a really good opportunity to spend some time with him, and especially great to have General Brown here, who is one of our lead warfighters, one of our more experienced warfighters and the Commander of Pacific Air Forces. One of my messages is to just re-emphasize, as Secretary Pompeo did, our commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty. With that, I look forward to taking your questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. With that, we will start the question and answer section. We’ll go ahead and start the questions with Philip Heijmans from Bloomberg News [in Singapore].
Question: Hi, there. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.
Given that allies like Australia have expressed reservations about basing intermediate missiles post-INF, will, or is, the Air Force considering perhaps, putting them somewhere like Guam or elsewhere?
General Goldfein: I think Secretary Esper was recently asked that too. At this point, I don’t think there’s been any commitment at all to any placement of any missiles. But clearly, we’re focused on mutual, this is about mutual defense. A partnership. Here in the Philippines, this is about our alliance. And quite frankly, historical friendship. So that’s where we’re focused right now. There is no commitment, I don’t believe at this point, for any basing of any missiles.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Next we’ll go to Steven Lee [Myers] from the New York Times [in Beijing].
Question: Hi, thank you for doing this. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the recent joint patrol with the Russians and the Chinese along the Sea of Japan over the disputed territory, and what you make of that. How significant it is and how does it change your calculation?
General Goldfein: Thanks. I’m going to ask General Brown to come up as the Air Component Commander in INDOPACOM.
General Brown: Thank you for the question. The thing we’re paying attention to is the overall activity between, whether it’s the PRC or Russia. This was a unique event. We’ve seen a few exercises that they’ve come together on, but this particular event you could tell was actually planned out ahead of time and so we do want to pay attention to the activities that either the PRC, Russia — that they do in concert together. My concern here is that it tries to drive a wedge between the longstanding partnerships and alliances we have here in the region.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to Danh Le Thanh from Zing News in Vietnam.
Question: Thank you. My question is the USS Ronald Reagan visit to the Philippines in early August. Is it actually a response to China’s behavior in the South China Sea? And any specific plans on its next operation? How is the planning on the next aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam? Thank you.
General Brown: This is General Brown. I can tell you just on our activity within the Pacific, whether it be the South China Sea or anyplace else, it’s all part of a free and open Indo-Pacific. We want to be able to sail, fly, and operate anywhere international law allows. So, from that aspect, our operations are just normal operations throughout the places within international sea space and air space.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Next we have Gordon Arthur from Shephard Media in Hong Kong.
Question: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to interact. I’d like to ask about China, and how important a role it plays in the calculus for the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific region. Are you concerned about fighters such as the J20? Are you concerned about H6K bombers sort of entering the Western Pacific and circumnavigating Taiwan?
Also in the South China Sea, what is the U.S. Air Force doing to ensure freedom of navigation? I know the U.S. Navy is doing a number of FONOPs. Is the U.S. Air Force doing something similar?
General Goldfein: Thanks for the question. General Goldfein again. What we’re most concerned about here is that we all adhere to established rules of behavior that allow us to have common access to the global commons. So, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, in partnership with allies, partners in the region, we want to make sure that we keep these avenues open. So we absolutely are doing freedom of navigation operations both in the air and at sea. They are coordinated and they are focused on ensuring that we all maintain access. Because everybody benefits from being able to have trade routes, to have open areas of navigation. So, you’ll see that we will continue to have a presence here to ensure that the [order] that we have on the seas and in the air continues.
With that, I’ll ask General Brown if he has anything else additional.
General Brown: The only thing I would add to that is that we do pay attention to not only our activity, but the activity of our partners. And really, it’s the cooperation, our working together. I find it’s hugely important in having a good understanding of where we’re able to fly and operate to make sure we have access to the global commons.
Moderator: Thank you. Next Jaeduk Seo in Seoul, South Korea, from RFA.
Question: Hello. I would like to ask a question about North Korea. North Korea has continued to launch short range ballistic missiles against the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise. North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles again today. How do you analyze North Korea’s intentions? And are you considering policy to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea?
General Goldfein: As you might imagine from a military perspective, our job at the end of the day, is to provide our commander in chief credible military options. So, the policy aspects of this, I’m not really prepared to comment on. I’ll just say that we’re watching it very closely, and we ensure that our commander in Chief and our allies and partners have credible military options as we look at the region.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to Cecil Morella from AFP [in Manila].
Question: Good afternoon, Generals. The Philippine Military and Defense Minister has been complaining about an unauthorized passage, as they describe it, of Chinese warships in Philippine territorial waters. What do you make of this?
And should your Asian allies and the Philippines be concerned about it?
General Goldfein: I think quite frankly any activity that we see both at sea and in the air, and increasingly now we’re also having the same conversation in space and in cyber, has got to adhere to some international rules of order that we all live by. So, anybody in the region that violates those, it’s concerning.
So part of our engagement here, and our presence here, is to make sure that we keep the global commons open for all. And everybody benefits when we can have freedom of navigation, to include China.
General Brown: General Brown here. The only thing I would add to that is one of our key goals with our partners here is to provide domain awareness, both in the air and in this case, in the maritime. So we have a good understanding of what’s going on. So, in negotiations in support of our diplomats, they have accurate information based on our best ability to provide it to them, to ensure we can have that access to the global commons as well as ensuring a rules-based international order is adhered to.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll have Mike Yeo from Defense News in Melbourne, Australia.
Question: Good day General Goldfein and General Brown. My question is more for General Brown. The Republic of Singapore Air Force just recently did a training exercise for a couple of weeks over in Guam. I’m just wondering, will this be a regular occurrence? And is that part of the expanded Memorandum of Understanding between Singapore and the United States that the Singaporean Defense Minister was talking about earlier this year?
General Brown: As you know, we have a number of exercises throughout the region, and we have a very good relationship with Singapore. As part of that, it’s the training that the Singapore Air Force does with the United States, but it’s also the training that’s done in Guam, and the training we do with Commando Sling in Singapore.
So, part of this is an expanding conversation about how we continue to work together. I foresee that we’ll have future opportunities to operate out of Guam with the Singapore Air Force.
Moderator: Thank you, General. Next we’ll go to Kozue Hamamoto from NHK in Japan. Kozue, please go ahead. Okay, let’s go ahead to our next question from Dong Hyun Kim from Voice of America [Korean Service, in Washington DC].
Question: I have a question. An effective deterrence means not only an effective missile defense strategy, but also having an offensive pre-emptive strike capability. As North Korea has recently shown unprecedented short-range solid fuel ballistic missile capability, which is harder to track or intercept, I was wondering if the U.S. Air Force is considering a change of their operational defense, pre-emptive strike scenario, on an imminent attack from North Korea?
General Goldfein: I would just go back — General Goldfein here. If you go back to your original point about deterrence, you know, deterrence, the math equation of deterrence actually hasn’t changed over all these years. Technology changes, but the math equation is still capability times will. And it’s capability times will as viewed by a potential adversary. So, our job is to provide credible military options that the adversary knows we were willing to execute, and that in fact we hope will cause them to pause before they take action that will not be successful.
So I would not characterize it as a change in [pre-emption]. I think it was more of ensuring that we continue to provide credible military options so that we can make the math equation always work. We prefer always not to fight.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Next we’ll go to Juan Carlo Gotinga from Rappler in Manila.
Question: Hi, thank you so much for taking this question. I would like to follow up on the matter of the Chinese warship spotted in the southern part of our country making passage, unauthorized, without notification to the Philippine government. You said it is a cause for concern. What I want to ask you, sirs, is to what extent do you feel that your freedom of navigation operations and overflight and your patrols in the Western Pacific and in the South China Sea are able to deter China’s aggressive moves, given the fact that despite its supposed commitments to adhere to the rule of law and to not militarize the area, it seems to be doing otherwise. And its rhetoric goes one way, but its actions on the ground go a completely different direction. To what extent is the U.S.’ effort able to deter this behavior from China?
General Goldfein: General Goldfein, then I’ll turn it over to General Brown. I’ll just tell you that there’s no let up in our willingness or our ability to fly or sail where we need to and when we need to, and there will be no let up in the future. That’s our commitment to the region.
General Brown: General Brown here. The part I would add to that is the fact that we have to highlight the facts when those that don’t follow rules-based international order, no matter who that might be, we do highlight that. So, part of our operations are to deter, or also prove the fact that you should be able to fly, sail, and operate no matter what nation you are, where international law allows.
Moderator: Thank you. We’re just about running out of time. Next we’ll go back to Gordon Arthur from Shephard Media in Hong Kong.
Question: Thank you. The last [inaudible] joint U.S.-Australia Talisman Saber, and they did the higher end, the HIMARS rapid insertion demonstration. I’d just like to ask about the Air Force’s perspective on this kind of tactic. Also are you developing other tactics and procedures that would be of use specifically to the Asia-Pacific region? Thank you.
General Brown: From an Air Force perspective, and really from a joint perspective, our job is to provide, as General Goldfein has described, to provide options. Whether it’s a HIMARS demonstration or other activities that provide us as many options as possible to be effective as a joint force, I’m all for it. Whether it be a HIMARS or us using part of our PACAF strategy of agile combat employment, all these are applicable to actually provide us additional combat capability if required when our nations call upon us.
Moderator: We have time for just one more question. We’re going to go to Ronito Calunsod from Kyodo News [in Manila].
Question: Thank you. Good afternoon. Sir, on the situation in the South China Sea — ASEAN and China are now preparing to start the second reading for the negotiations on the Code of Conduct. I’d like to get your reaction on the China-proposed provision in the negotiating text on the CoC that bars militaries from outside the region from holding joint military exercises with ASEAN and China unless approved by these two parties. Thank you.
General Goldfein: Thanks. From a military perspective — that would be far more in a political and policy lane. So I would just tell you that our job is to make sure that in the U.S., our Commander in Chief, and as a friend in the region, allies and partners, our job is to make sure that we continue to have credible military options and that we fly and we sail where we need to do, where we need to operate, to maintain the global commons for all.
Again, China benefits as well as anyone else if we all adhere to international norms and rules of behavior.
Moderator: We’re going to wrap up the call. General Goldfein, do you have any final remarks?
General Goldfein: Just again, thanks to everyone for taking the time to do this. We remain committed to stability and prosperity in the region, and we do that through the pursuit of readiness partnerships and promotion of a good network. And we’re grateful to be here. We understand that we’re guests also in the region and we’re appreciative, especially for the Philippines, to welcome us here so we can continue to reemphasize our commitment to this friendship as allies and partners.
Our vision is for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we’ll continue to maintain that presence to do our part to ensure that we keep this area free and open for all. So thank you again for spending time with us.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force General Goldfein; and Pacific Air Forces Commander General Brown. And I also thank all of our callers for participating.