Admiral John C. Aquilino, 26th Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, was the keynote speaker at our Annual Members Program on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. His comments, conversation with National Committee President Stephen Orlins, and Q&A focused on Sino-American military policy in the context of the overall bilateral relationship.
SECRETARY JACOB J. LEW: Good afternoon. Good afternoon and welcome. Good afternoon to everyone and welcome. It’s really a pleasure to host you here at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Members of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. And after a long hiatus, it’s really very nice to be here in person and to be able to gather. Our members represent many viewpoints but share a common belief that increased public knowledge and understanding of China, of U.S.-China relations, of current developments between the United States and China and the rest of the region, is absolutely critical to the development of a sound relationship between our two peoples, and to our own future well-being.
It’s my privilege tonight, as we go into the public meeting part of our program, to introduce our speaker for the evening. And that is Admiral John Aquilino. Admiral Aquilino needs a little introduction in this group. He’s the 26th commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. It’s the nation’s oldest and largest combatant command. And USINDOPACOM includes 380,000 soldier-sailors, Marines, airmen, guardians, coast guardsmen, and Department of Defense civilians. And it’s responsible for all U.S. military activities in the Indo-Pacific, which covers 36 nations. I had to look at that because I didn’t think I had it right. Fourteen time zones, which makes our complaining about New York to Los Angeles seem like a child’s play. And more than half of the world’s population. Needless to say, it’s one of the most important military positions in our national security system.
Admiral Aquilino’s previous assignments have included adversary instructor pilot training, flag aid to the vice chief of naval operations, special assistant to the Office of Legislative Affairs for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and executive assistant to the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, among others. He’s been highly decorated, entitled to wear the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal. He’s probably tired of hearing about all these medals, but he earned them the hard way, so he deserves to have them called out. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, Navy Fighter Weapons School, and the Joint Forces Staff College.
And importantly for all of us here tonight, since taking on this assignment, he has been a close friend of the National Committee and is somebody in whom we have developed an ability to have dialogue and conversation, which is why we’re privileged to welcome him to the stage, the podium tonight to share some remarks, after which he and Steve Orleans will have a bit of a conversation and take some questions. Admiral Aquilino?
ADMIRAL JOHN C. AQUILINO: Well, in Hawaii, we say aloha. This is where you come back and say aloha. Aloha.
SECRETARY LEW AND ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Aloha.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: It’s wonderful for me to be back in New York. And for those who don’t know, I actually grew up in Long Island. So, I don’t get to be here often, but it’s truly an honor and a privilege to spend time with you tonight. And Steve, thanks very much for inviting me. Mr. Secretary, thanks for the kind introduction. Jan Margo and the phenomenal National Committee team for putting this together. And for those who are unaware, when I took this job, I spent some time with Steve, and he was incredibly helpful as I prepared to take on this pretty difficult position. But the National Committee and Steve were really significant in helping me shape my thoughts, so thank you. That said, I’m not ignorant of the fact of the people who are in this room, the expertise and probably the most informed in the world on China relations. Chairman Dunford, great to see you as well, sir. Always good to see you.
For years, INDOPACOM commanders have worked for the National Committee. They’ve done that to both learn from and help educate the collective publics on the security aspects of what is arguably the most important and consequential relationship in the world today. That said, Admiral Blair is here also, I think. Did he make it?
ADMIRAL DENNIS C. BLAIR: Yeah, right here.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Hello, Admiral. Good to see you, sir. Sorry, I didn’t see you beforehand. But Admiral Blair is a former INDOPACOM commander and director of National Intelligence. His expertise in this field has also been helpful in shaping my thoughts and position, as well as the U.S. government’s.
The National Committee’s mission is to encourage and increase the understanding of China and the United States between the citizens of both countries, and that has never been more important than right now. That’s why I’m here tonight. For those of you who don’t know, again, the Secretary talked about 14 time zones. I was in Papua New Guinea 23 hours ago. Now, we were there for an incredibly important reason. I spent time with Secretary Blinken and the leadership of Papua New Guinea to include Prime Minister Marles, as they signed our update and improved Defense Cooperative Agreement. And that agreement lays the groundwork for closer military ties between our two countries.
Now, the day prior to that, I was in Sunnylands, California. There, I met with my counterparts and the Chiefs of Defense from Australia, Japan, India, and the United Kingdom. That security dialogue, we discussed the sharing growing concern for the dangers that currently threaten the security environment. Now, before I really start and get into this, let me just make some key points that are foundational to everything and have shaped where we are today. First, conflict with the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is not inevitable. Second, the U.S. seeks only peace and prosperity and stability, not confrontation. And third, the U.S. policies related to Taiwan have not changed and we do not seek an independent Taiwan. The service members in INDOPACOM and our civilian warriors spend every day working to prevent conflict, not provoke it. And they do that to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific for all nations to have peace, stability, and prosperity.
So, the current competitive environment between the U.S. and China is not just driven by the traditional dynamics of power politics, but fundamentally by a difference in our worldviews. For the past several weeks, I’ve thought pretty hard about how I would talk to this group. And by the way, I think Secretary Kissinger was supposed to be here. And I don’t know how to take it, when he found out I was speaking, he decided not to come. That was a little concerning to me. I know. And I’ll see him tomorrow, but, again, that entire piece concerned me. But I’m hoping that I can provide a little more clarity on how I see the theater.
So, three things I’d like to get done tonight. First, I’d like to highlight some of the detail and the facts about specific PRC actions and those behaviors that give me concern. And oh, by the way, not just me. And by the way, not just the U.S., but of the allies and partners in the region. Second, I’d like to identify how I believe a peaceful coexistence is not only possible, but beneficial to the global community, China, and the United States. And then, lastly, I’ll talk a little bit about what we’re doing in INDOPACOM to ensure we can deter conflict and maintain that peace and stability.
So, on the areas of concern side, let me go back a little bit in history. In 1978, the U.S. policy towards China focused primarily on increasing levels of engagement with the intention of bringing China into the community of nations. And this approach was built on the expectation of adherence to the agreed-to international rules-based order, the principles of openness, transparent, and fair economic practices. The rules-based international order was created, or created exactly the specific conditions that enabled China to be able to grow to be the world’s second-largest economy. Those rules enable that growth. So, that’s what we looked at in 1978. That’s not the world we live in today.
Since Xi Jinping assumed control, he has pursued a deliberate synchronization of all forms of his national power to change and remove the current rules-based order. Now, that rules-based order has benefited all the nations for nearly 80 years. And he’d like to replace them with a self-defined set of rules that’s beneficial to the CCP, but at the expense of all other nations. Those thoughts, and as the PRC looks at it, are focused on a Marxist view. And when you hear the PRC discuss what their view of the future is, those words sometimes sound like they make sense, but when we look at it, it’s not about words, it’s about deeds.
So, I told you I would highlight why I believe the theater security environment is concerning. Let me lay out just some facts through the lens of the things that I see. First, an illegitimate claim to the entire area inside the self-proclaimed Nine-Dash Line as territorial seas. A unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea. The construction of PRC military bases on several reclaimed artificial islands that have multiple claims from multiple nations in order to be able to control the South China Sea. Despite President Xi’s clear promises to President Obama on the White House lawn, articulating that he would not militarize those islands, today they have military airstrips, fighter hangars, underground munition storage, coastal gun emplacements, surface-to-air missile systems, and electronic jammers. The initiation and intensification of border conflict with India, attempting to change the status quo on the line of actual control. An increasing number of dangerous and escalatory actions against the U.S. and our allies and partners that, number one, increase our concern for potential accidents and miscalculation, but, two, are in opposition to the international rules order and safety.
So, a number of concerning intercepts. And we’ve seen the intercepts of our aircraft become much closer and ultimately more dangerous. Not long ago, there was an event with a J-11 fighter that flew within 20 feet of the canopy of an RC-135, forcing the aircrew to take action to avoid collision. And then there’s actions against one of our allies, the Philippines, that epitomizes those dangerous actions. They’ve employed water cannons on Philippine ships, military-grade lasers that could have deliver injury or blindness. They’ve also most recently sent their Coast Guard ships to block the Philippines from entering Second Thomas Shoal, which is inside of their exclusive economic zone.
Chairman Xi reversed the agreement associated with the One Country, Two Systems framework in Hong Kong, and broke his agreement. And most recently, and in the media, is the aggressive coercion campaign against the people on Taiwan. Missile firings, simulated blockades, are amongst a few of those actions. Now, the CCP justifies these actions by using domestic laws, which they intend to use to supersede international law, specifically the Law of the Sea. And it exemplifies how the PRC attempts to undermine the rules-based order, again, at the expense of all nations. So, militarily, these actions are supported by the fastest and largest military build-up that we’ve seen since World War II, both in conventional forces and in strategic nuclear forces and weapons. It’s tied diplomatically with the Wolf Warriors that encourage Chinese diplomats to routinely and publicly attack their host governments.
Economically, we see coercion against states whose policies don’t align or offend Beijing. And internationally, China has pushed to strip UN resolutions of all references to universal human rights. So, that’s what I see. Those are facts. What does it look like to me as it applies to this adjusted, rules-based international order with Chinese characteristics? And I’m watching very closely as they begin to shape the world for their views. And I think the foundation has been laid, and it’s called the Global Security Initiative, the Global Development Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative. You’re watching it being set today.
Now, these concepts lack details, and they’re also fraught with a say-do mismatch that I talked about previously. So, in the Global Security Initiative, in the PRC’s words, “It’s designed to resolve disputes through dialogue.” That’s what they say. But here’s what we see. That when there is an issue of concern, and specifically I’ll highlight the most recent surveillance balloon that violated the sovereignty of the United States and 40 other countries, Secretary Austin attempted to call his counterpart, and he wouldn’t take the call. That hardly allows you to resolve disputes through dialogue. The Global Civilization Initiative, Chairman Xi was quoted, “Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are the common aspirations of all peoples.” His words.
So, let’s look at the Ukraine. Ukrainians aspire to nothing more than peace and to live with freedom in their neighborhood. And the CCP, signed by President Xi himself, actually put a pen to paper of the Treaty of Friendship with the Ukraine. That treaty conveys clear support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity. Since the invasion, Chairman Xi has failed to assist the Ukraine or even to condemn the invasion. Instead, we see a no-limits agreement as it applies to a relationship with Russia.
The Global Development Initiative, supposedly designed to help all countries achieve greater modernization and development, with problems handled through cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual support. Their words. But what we see is the CCP attempting to unilaterally impose fishing bans inside of exclusive economic zones of countries in the region, most recently called out by the Philippines. And they continue to engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in those waters. These actions are not grounded in equality or mutual respect, and they are designed to benefit the PRC only. That’s what I see. That’s what many nations in the region see, and those are facts.
Now, I said before, peace and stability is possible. Peaceful coexistence between the United States and the PRC is possible. The United States does not seek conflict, rather, we embrace a world that adheres to the international rules, and those rules are recognized by all the nations. We stand for free and open markets with increased global trade, enabled by transparency and enforcement of those rules. The acknowledgment and defense of sovereignty for all nations, free of coercion, pressure, and corruption, where regardless of size or wealth, each nation has an equal voice and an equal vote to make their own choices. Peaceful settlements of disputes through international rule of law. Respecting always the cultures of all nations, including unique customs and traditions. The principle and responsibility to protect human rights, honor legal commitments, and ensure access to the global commons. Those are the things that all nations need.
So, adhering to the rules-based international order does require transparency, dialogue, and cooperation to build trust and to further all nations’ interests. I’ll give you an example of what I’ve seen recently that works. In the recent crisis in Sudan, the U.S. government response to a PRC request, as well as requests from many nations, supported China in removing their citizens in order to protect human life. This is precisely the type of operation that the rules-based order facilitates. And I’m encouraged that the majority of nations throughout the region have expressed a desire for those principles that deliver a free and open Indo-Pacific. I remain hopeful President Xi might recognize how cooperation rather than coercion or conflict is in the PRC’s interest because no single country can truly prosper in isolation. We can peacefully coexist, but it will require some adherence to the rules and the principles that all the nations in the region have articulated.
So, what are we doing in INDOPACOM? To ensure that we can prevent conflict and maintain peace and stability. And we’re doing just that each and every day. That said, first and most importantly, the United States is a Pacific nation, despite what you might hear in the media. And we will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows. And we do that to protect our allies and partners, and to demonstrate the rules-based order, and that the rule of law exists for all nations. We position our ready forces in the theater and around the world to protect and support those allies and partners, and to build partner capacity. We deliver capabilities. We provide training and we approve foreign military sales. All of those to ensure nations can defend themselves against any threats.
We exercise with our allies and partners consistently. INDOPACOM executes over 120 exercises a year with almost every nation in the region. Those exercises improve interoperability, increase capability, and they strengthen the trust between like-minded countries. They’re becoming more multilateral, they’re becoming more complex, and they’re increasing in scale and scope every year. More nations are participating in each and every one of those exercises. For example, Indonesia exercise Garuda Shield. That is previously an army-to-army bilateral exercise. This past year, the leadership in Indonesia developed an event in coordination with INDOPACOM that included 14 nations, of all joint services for a synchronized combined operation.
Thailand’s bilateral exercise with the United States, Cobra Gold, has expanded in scope and scale. And most recently, I was in Thailand for the opening ceremony. And it was impressive to watch our forces together. Balikatan, previously bilateral with the Philippines, has expanded to include Japan, Australia, and a variety of other nations to continue to grow our capabilities in scope and scale. Our exercise program strengthens multi-layered security architecture that is composed of alliances, mini and multilateral agreements, FVEY nations, strategic partnership, and friends. We also engage with support in a variety of multilateral groups, such as the Nations of the Quad, the AUKUS agreement. We work tirelessly with ASEAN. The U.S., Japan, Republic of Korea trilateral work is noteworthy.
And all of those are designed to sustain the international rules-based order. They also support our common values, and they develop further relationships throughout the region. These activities provide clear, visible evidence of the United States, our allies, partners, and friends’ commitment to preserving peace and stability in the region. Now, we talked about some of the things that we need to do to ensure a peaceful area. One of those that’s critically important for me is that of communication. And it’s precisely for this reason that I’ve repeatedly requested to speak with my counterparts in the PLA. It has yet to be approved. I do believe establishing routine communication between our two militaries is critical to responsibly manage competition, to mitigate risk, and to avoid miscalculation. I do not believe that engaging in an open and candid discussion should be used as a bartering chip. The stakes today are too high, and the conflict costs would be too great. I remain ready and willing to meet with my theater commander counterparts to have frank and open discussions. So, the United States, working alongside our allies and partners and friends, is striving to build an enduring future of peace and prosperous for all nations, including China.
Now, we have different views. There is no doubt. But it does not mean we have to be antagonistic towards each other. Conflict is not imminent, and it is not inevitable. And just as we have done since 1978, we do not seek to contain or suppress China, but we are engaged in a robust competition to defend that rules-based order I discussed tonight. We’re also here to defend our way of life and the security architecture that has set millions of people free and has raised billions of people out of poverty. USINDOPACOM takes actions each and every day to prevent conflict. We do that by demonstrating our ability to work collaboratively with our allies and partners, and we enforce that set of rules and norms that we all benefit from. The U.S. is committed to maintaining a shared future based on a legacy of liberty with our allies and partners. And for me, this means a peaceful, stable, and more prosperous world for our children and our grandchildren. This is the ultimate common ground that all countries can build upon. And with that, I thank you for allowing me to come tonight. It’s an honor to be here with all of you. And I look forward to taking any of your questions. Thanks.
STEPHEN A. ORLINS: One of the great parts of my job has been getting to know you, getting to know your predecessors. I think I’ve now spent a lot of time with the last half dozen INDOPACOM commanders, some are now on our board of directors. And they are some of America’s best and brightest, greatest public servants, and you fall exactly with them. You just are so great. Whenever I listen to Admiral Aquilino, I always feel safer at the end of the conversation. It’s a great thing. Actually, I love it, and it’s terrific. Let’s talk a little about, you know, not only what you said in the speech today but what you’ve been saying in your congressional testimony. You’ve said China is trending in the wrong direction. What would it take for China to trend in the right direction? What constructive suggestions do you have for them?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: First, Steve, thanks for letting me be here. I think they have to listen a little bit. Right? So, this is about understanding each other’s position. And when I say each other’s, I just don’t mean the United States. There’s a large number of allies and partners that have concern with the actions and the factual items that concern me that I’ve articulated. So, I think they need to listen. That said, we also need to listen. And then there’s the set of rules that we’re just going to have to agree with what they are, and then we’re going to have to live by them, and then they’re going to have to be enforced. There’s one nation, two if you include Russia, that have articulated a displeasure with the current set of rules. And I’m not saying that the rules shouldn’t be looked at, reviewed, and potentially adjusted if need be, but none of it should be by forced coercion or bullying. So, we have to understand what it is the PRC doesn’t like about the rules-based order, and then all the nations get to have a discussion and a view on what they’d like to set as those rules, and then we all have to be able to adhere to them. That’s the way I would articulate it.
ORLINS: Now, as you know, at the Committee we constantly advocate for mil-to-mil (military-to-military) discussions. I advocate for you talking to your equivalents in China. Let’s say it happens. So, let’s say the Chinese suddenly… We’ve seen improvements in the relationship in the last four weeks. So, let’s say the Chinese say, “Okay. That makes sense.” So, your counterpart is seated in my chair. What do you say to him?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: This is exactly what I would say to him is, “We are military members, and we carry out the orders and policies directed by our governments. That’s agreed to, I think. That said, it is your and my responsibility to ensure that our kids who are out there executing our operations don’t stumble into an issue that could be concerning. We need to operate professionally, safely. We need to communicate on the seas, in the air, and whenever possible to ensure we can avoid any accident or event that could lead to something more concerning. And lastly, that if by chance something like that were to happen, that you and I should immediately be able to talk on the phone and be able to de-escalate any potential event because I’m here to tell you right now I’m not here to start a war, I’m here to prevent one, and that’s what we should both be here to do.”
ORLINS: Are you saying there are no existing lines of communication so that if there was an issue with the Southern Command in the PRC, you would have no way to communicate with them? We’d have to go roundabout through the embassy to their embassy, to the Ministry of National Defense?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, there is a technical connection via the defense telephone line that could be used. Now, that said, if there were an event, I can tell you I would pick up the phone and dialed. I’m not sure anybody would answer it on the other side.
ORLINS: You mentioned that when we had the balloon incident, the Chinese didn’t take the call from [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin. The Minister of National Defense is sanctioned by the U.S. government. Can our military take a position on whether that’s good policy? In other words, if he’s sanctioned, it’s highly unlikely he’s going to answer the phone. We understand that that sanction is going to prevent him from meeting with General Austin when he goes to the Shangri-La dialogue.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Just so we’re clear on the timeframe. So, it was Minister Wei [Fenghe] at the time? He was not sanctioned and there was no issue with the ability for the two to talk.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Second, on the sanctions piece, Steve, I’ll just say, again, I am not a policymaker, but I believe that Secretary Austin has asked for a meeting, understanding that the sanctions are in place, but in no way would they impact the two’s ability to meet and talk.
ORLINS: President Biden, when he was in Japan… You were with him in Japan, or you went directly to Papua New Guinea?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I did not go to Japan. I went direct to Papua New Guinea and spent time with Secretary Blinken.
ORLINS: So, when we saw him in Japan, you know, he says that he’s predicting a thaw in relations between China and the United States, and he restated what you said, “We’re not looking for a new Cold War.” What can INDOPACOM do to reduce bilateral tensions and lead to a more productive, stable relationship with China?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: First, let me correct the record. I said what the President said, not the other way around.
ORLINS: Sorry. Sorry to the military officers here who know that’s the case.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: And the question is, what is it we can do?
ORLINS: Yes. What can INDOPACOM do to kind of reduce tensions? And then I’ll have some specific questions.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Well, I think, you know, there’s some clear things that are articulated we are doing, which is we’re operating with our allies and partners. We’re operating freely, safely inside of international sea and airspace. Right? So, there is no reason nations should not be able to operate inside of international sea and airspace. We certainly could have dialogue, as has been requested. That would be a path towards what I believe is that thawing that the President discussed. And I’m hoping that at some point in the near future, my counterparts will accept my request to have a conversation. But we also help each other, whether it be humanitarian assistance, disaster response, or as I articulated, the Sudan event. So, there are areas we can clearly cooperate on. I think in the government, there was discussion about climate change and other areas where cooperation is clearly easily achieved if we could get there.
ORLINS: When I meet with the Chinese military, they often tell me that we are running more surveillance flights closer in. They never suggest we’re within the 12-mile limit, but they do…
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: That’s because we’re not.
ORLINS: They say our balloons are. But we’re never within the 12-mile limit, but we’re going closer and closer. And then you say we have more dangerous intercepts by the Chinese. Well, the Chinese say, “Well, there’s an easy answer. Run fewer surveillance flights, then there’ll be fewer dangerous intercepts.” Given the capability of our satellites, do we need to run as many surveillance flights as we do? And can you give us a sense as to how many are actually run these days?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, no. What I will say is…
ORLINS: Give me a hint.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, back to the entire portion again. We honor the rules-based order. We never fly inside of PRC territorial air or sea space. The discussion about the surveillance flights are getting closer and closer is just not true. We operate in international sea space and air space to execute the missions assigned. And the surveillance flights are designed to trust but verify. That’s what we do. We don’t only do surveillance against the PRC. And I understand the argument that says, “If you would just leave, I would be happy.” That’s an interesting argument. That said, it’s just not going to happen.
ORLINS: The Chinese military would say that the promise that Xi made to Obama on the White House lawn was a contingent promise. It was contingent upon the U.S. ending FONOPs (Freedom of Navigation Operations), freedom of navigation exercises, in the South China Sea. So, if the islands didn’t have U.S. ships passing close by, then the Chinese wouldn’t militarize them. So, they actually argued that it was a contingent promise and they didn’t… Since, obviously, we continued those FONOPs, so they never implemented the promise. How do you respond to that?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Well, freedom of navigation ops are designed to do what I talked about here, which is to demonstrate where nations can operate in accordance with international law. Freedom of navigation ops are not focused on China. We execute freedom of navigation operations globally to demonstrate what the rules look like as it applies to what most all nations have concurred to. So, again, if the argument is, if you would just leave, everything would be okay, that’s an interesting argument, but there are interests. Two-thirds of the global economy runs through the South China Sea. So, if we would just leave, I’m sure that would be okay for China, but it’s not okay for the United States.
ORLINS: Yeah. Before I came here, I saw on the news that within your command, you will have the worst superstorm in 60 years that’s going to hit Guam. One of your predecessors, and we can debate whether this is a result of climate change, likely it is, but one of your predecessors said that the greatest threat to INDOPACOM is climate change. So, two questions. What do you think about that? Is it the greatest threat? And second, when I looked at the path of this storm, so it’s heading to Guam. In fact, it will probably reach Guam in the next three or four hours. It then will head to Taiwan, and then will head to the mainland. Are there areas where we can cooperate with the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) because of this storm?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah. So, I think humanitarian assistance and disaster response is clearly an area where there’s potential for cooperation. Now, you’re going to have to tell me which predecessor. I think it was Admiral Locklear.
ORLINS: It was.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: What year?
ORLINS: 2013, I believe.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah, this is a different world. Now, what I would say…
ORLINS: He’s online if he’s not here. Sam [Paparo], type in a note.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I think he’ll say just that. As a matter of fact, he was at the House a couple of months ago, and he’s a great mentor. I think what I would say is, as a part of the national security strategy, the national security impacts that apply for climate change are certainly still a concern. If you look at the Pacific Islands, when we did some predictive analysis on what impacts climate change might bring, and I provided it to, I want to say, 32 of the 36 nations on what we believed would be the impact to their nation over the next 30 years due to climate change. And there’s severe drought, there’s increased severity of storms, there’s rising sea level, there’s a variety of different impacts. Those are areas we can cooperate. Now, that said, we do that. We’re ready to do that today in order to secure and save human lives and to take care of humanity. Those are things and places we can absolutely cooperate. I’ll give you this example. As a part of Cobra Gold, we do a humanitarian assistance disaster response exercise or a portion of that exercise with Thailand. And the PRC was invited and participated in that exercise.
ORLINS: They did participate.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: They did. That is an area that we can cooperate.
ORLINS: I noticed a few years ago that the PLAN used to participate in the Pacific… What was the…
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: RIMPAC.
ORLINS: RIMPAC. But they’ve now… Should they participate in that again?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: No. And I’ll tell you why. They participated in 2014. I was the director of Maritime Ops at that point. I was working for Admiral Harris, who was working for Admiral Locklear. They were invited and they participated. They actually hosted a reception and were authorized to participate for that event. Now, since that event, the militarization of the man-made islands was the causal factor that I believe got Admiral Harris to ensure or to disinvite them from the next one. So, they illegally built some artificial islands. They said they weren’t going to militarize them. They militarized them. And that was not in alignment with our policies, principles, and the meaning of RIMPAC. And they were disinvited.
ORLINS: I’m going to open the floor to questions soon. You talk about the international order and peaceful sentiment of disputes among all nations. The Chinese often point out… And I say the same thing, and this is what we’re trying to do. The Chinese often point out that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was… The Secretary General of the United Nations said that this was not authorized by the international law, that it violated…it was not authorized by the Security Council. We didn’t ultimately use that as the justification, but preemptive war was the Bush administration’s kind of way of talking about it to the American people. Hundreds of thousands of people died in that attempt to reshape the international order. What they say is, “Gosh, guys, we threaten? And yes, we want the rules to change, but we haven’t had deaths the way the U.S. caused in violation of the UN Charter in Iraq.” How should we respond to that?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I think we ought to go back and look at it through the lens of all the things that occurred pre-Iraq. And once again, I’m not a policymaker. But I do believe there were over a dozen UN resolutions that articulated the concern about what was going on and the potential threat it existed to the rest of the world. So, there’s an argument that said it wasn’t in accordance with international law, and I think there’s other arguments that say it was.
ORLINS: I don’t want to… Again, you’re not the policymaker, but the Secretary General said the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal and not authorized by the Security Council. So, pretty definitive. And the International Commission of Jurists said it was not in self-defense or authorized by the Security Council, and, therefore, constitutes the crime of war of aggression. And the problem that I often have is when talking to the Chinese, you know, we have not followed international law and the existing rule system either. So, it’s very tough to kind of have those conversations.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: They are entitled to their opinion.
ORLINS: Let’s talk briefly about lessons of the Ukraine war for Taiwan. I mean, you’re the one in the United States’ government who has to think the most about the military contingency. How does that invasion kind of form the way you think about… Has it changed the way you think about the Taiwan risk?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Well, I think if you look at Russia’s illegal and illegitimate, unprovoked attack on Ukraine, there’s many lessons learned that come out of that. I think the world was woken up, not just… You can ask me if I was woken up. But I think the globe was woken up. The people on Taiwan certainly have a new view. I think the rest of the global community has a view that authoritarian nations and the decision of one man that if he or she, man or woman, were to take that choice, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. And we ought to be concerned about that. Now, there’s many lessons that I’m taking out of it, and I hope that President Xi takes away. First, there’s no such thing as a short war. And if the decision were made to take it on, that it would be drastically devastating to his people in the form of blood and treasure, it would drastically upset, certainly, the rest of the global economy.
We’re so interwoven. But bottom line, the investment of blood and treasure in order to achieve your objectives, that needs to be a very hard decision. So, he has to understand that. I think he needs to understand that the global community can be pulled together quickly when they disagree with actions taken in that fashion. So, this effort of global condemnation is something that any aggressor is going to have to deal with. President Putin is dealing with it right now. And oh, by the way, not just militarily. Economically, diplomatically, and a variety of other ways. So, all of those lessons learned should be thought of. And ultimately, it is not in anybody’s interest, which is why I’ve articulated the continued effort to maintain this peace, Steve. My efforts are, you know, 100% working to prevent conflict.
ORLINS: Your predecessor, who I don’t think is here, one of your predecessors, who’s not here tonight, but some of them are, said he thought there was a timeline and that before 2027 we should expect conflict over Taiwan. Do you have a view on timing?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, let me go back to… And it was Admiral [Philip] Davidson’s comments.
ORLINS: Yes, it was.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: And I won’t speak for him, but what I’d say and where I think he came to 2027 was the fact that Chairman Xi directed his force to be ready by 2027 should he choose the desire to execute, by force, a unification of the island. I think that’s the context in which his comments came. Now, I’ve been asked by 5 million people, you know, “Hey, when’s it going to happen?” I say I refuse. Number one, no one knows. However many people are in this audience, if we asked them all, we’d get the same number of different responses. What I can tell you is the Secretary and the President have tasked me with two missions. The first is to prevent this conflict. And then the second one is if I fail at mission one, to be ready and prepared to fight and win. So, no matter when it happens, Steve, the United States military is manned, trained, equipped, postured, and ready to execute both of those missions.
ORLINS: Yeah. You said in your speech that Chinese are engaged in the fastest build-up of any military since World War II. Am I not mistaken that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined, including China? How can that be consistent?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, I’ll defer to you on the math if that’s correct, but numbers lie and liars use numbers. The defense budget in the PRC has doubled at least what we’ve been told. That said, it’s not the most open and transparent system. So, I’m not sure we really can tell what’s being spent, but I can tell you the number of ships, submarines, airplanes, aircraft carriers, satellites, and missiles are rolling off the assembly lines in the PRC. And if I were to show you a slide of the numbers, types, and scale of what is being delivered and the posture of the United States, you would be overwhelmed by the adjustment.
ORLINS: One of your predecessors once said to me, “Has there ever been in world history an amphibious landing across 80 miles of rough water?”
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yep.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I would say Normandy.
ORLINS: Normandy was not close to 80 miles of open seas. Not even… No.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Torch.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Torch.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Operation Torch.
ORLINS: I can’t hear.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Operation Torch in North Africa.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: All the way from Jersey to North Africa.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: And you could argue that to get to Normandy there was action that took it there.
ORLINS: Point being that the casualties that would be incurred in any kind of invasion like that would be monumental by the PLA, that it would be hundreds and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who would perish, and, therefore, the chances of them, a conservative leadership, undertaking that risk is quite low.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I guess you could say that. That said, it won’t be you or I who make that choice.
ORLINS: No, but we need to have… I certainly feel I need to have a view on what the risk really is that, you know, it’s both a political judgment and a military judgment as to… And also would the United States government do something that is so politically unacceptable to China that we would force them into doing something crazy? You have to have a view as to what the casualties would be because that’s part of the analysis of the Chinese leadership because they have the similar analysis, they know what the casualties would be. Again, the soldiers in China are all soldiers who have been part of a one-child policy, so you’d be talking about parents whose only child is now gone. So, it’s another factor in what I think is actually a fairly conservative Chinese leadership. Are there folks who want to… I’m dominating the floor. And I said it’s our members meeting, so it’s a little… I can see Don Clarke’s hand up there. If you could give him a microphone.
DONALD CLARKE: Thanks. So, this is a Taiwan question. I’m wondering what in your view are measures that Taiwan should be taking but now is not taking or is not taking to nearly an appropriate degree to increase, you know, its defense and deterrence capability?
NCUSCR STAFF: And Don, can you introduce yourself and who you are?
CLARKE: Oh, sorry. Don Clarke, George Washington University Law School.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah. Don, thanks for that. First, I think you’d have to ask the people on Taiwan. I think from the lane of the United States, we’re providing the responsibilities that we have under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that the people on Taiwan are able to defend themselves. And that said, let’s make sure we get to the U.S. policy here, right? The one China policy states that the United States seeks for the peaceful resolution acceptable for the people on both sides of those straits for the choice of their future and the…
Don: I’m asking really a more technical military question. They buy tanks. Does it make any sense to buy tanks? Would they be buying drones instead? I’m sorry. It’s really a more technical military question just about your view as a military man, which I am not, and so I have no idea what the right answer is. Or is it, do you feel it’s not appropriate for you to express a view? That’s my question.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Well, again, we work through the required measures and the mechanism, again, the Taiwan Relations Act is the guiding star to ensure they have the capabilities that are required. And I’m confident that they’re receiving and purchasing the right capabilities.
ORLINS: All the way in the back.
JAN WEINBERG: Jan Weinberg, based in Princeton, New Jersey. Good to see you again, Stephen. Should the United States join the United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yes.
WEINBERG: Thank you.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: That’s the easiest question all day. That said, I have advocated for it in all of my testimony because, again, it is the rules-based order that we follow. And despite not being a ratified member, we do follow those rules. Oh, by the way, the PRC did sign on to the 82-1 clause.
ORLINS: Yes. And it would be great if… I’ve never heard somebody in the Navy say we shouldn’t sign and ratify. Keith Abell, our treasurer.
KEITH W. ABELL: Admiral, I hope you succeed at your first mission. But if it defaults to your second mission, is there a scenario where it doesn’t escalate, it’s contained in the South China Sea, and it doesn’t somehow manage to have contagion to the rest of the world?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I think, first of all, the United States is working diligently to make sure we’re executing mission number one, Steve. That said, we’re postured in the appropriate places. The United States does not choose to escalate. We are not being provocative. That said, I’m confident that we’d be able to fight and win wherever it went.
ORLINS: Right here in the front row.
DWAYNE RICE MASON: Okay. Dwayne Rice Mason, China Institute of New York, 40 Rector Street. Listen, thus far, China has launched eight Renhai-class cruisers firing hypersonic cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles. Are you sure that the aircraft carrier is still queen of the seas? And secondarily, in Naval War College Review and the China Maritime Studies reports, everything that they’re writing is about area denial, fortress fleet-type stuff. How do you know that Chinese aren’t going to use their fleet aggressively and move to the Eastern Pacific?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Thanks for that. You should have answered Steve’s question on the build-up piece because eight Renhai-class cruisers…
MASON: And more are coming.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: That’s a fact.
MASON: And hypersonic.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, the United States aircraft carriers are the safest airfields that we have.
MASON: Is it Queen of Seas though? In other words, the battleship became obsolete and I’m wondering, is the aircraft carrier, now that we have the hypersonic cruise missile and the anti-ship ballistic missile, is it now obsolete? That’s what I’m trying to really get at.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, no. All of our forces have the capability to protect themselves against a variety of threats. And we operate in those areas all the time. And I’m not sure [about] the Queen of the Sea thing. Having operated from aircraft carriers my whole life, I’ve never been told I was on the Queen of the Sea. But that said, for the United States, the requirements is for the entire joint force. There’s no one trick poly here that we utilize to both deter and then if we were to, unfortunately, get in any kind of conflict, for the United States, it’s the synchronization integrated efforts of the entire joint force under sea, on the sea, above the sea, in space and cyberspace. So, if anyone were to choose to take on the United States, they’re going to get the full Monty.
ORLINS: Let me recognize General Yin from the United States.
YIN ZHONGLIANG: Thank you, Admiral. I’m Yin Zhongliang. Served in the permanent mission of China to the United Nations. Honestly, I do not agree with your perspective on many issues you expressed just now. But I think today is not a proper occasion for me to respond to you each by each. So, maybe we have another chance to discuss about that. But please allow me to briefly clarify the basic China policy. In Asia Pacific security cooperation, China committed to promoting peace and stability in the region. It follows the path of peaceful development and mutually beneficial strategy of opening up, pursuing cooperation with all countries on the basis of five principles of peaceful coexistence.
As an important member of the Asia-Pacific family, China is fully aware that our peaceful development is closely linked with the future of whole Asia Pacific area. China has all along taken the advancement of regional stability as its own responsibility. We are ready to pursue security through dialogue and cooperation in the spirit of working together for mutual beneficial result. And we believe all countries need to make joint efforts to pursue a new path of dialogues and partnerships and featuring mutual trust, inclusiveness, and mutual beneficial cooperation.
Finally, I want to emphasize that China has committed itself to work with the United States to build stable relations featuring non-conflict like what you said, Admiral, non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and mutual beneficial cooperation. So, finally, sorry for taking a little bit [of a] long time. Finally, my question is I noticed that the current U.S. government regard China as a strategic competitor. How do you understand that in the term of military? That’s my question. Thank you.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Well, thanks for your initial comments. Again, I agree with virtually everything that you articulated. I would love to see that demonstrated. And I think that we could have a conversation. I’m actually excited to have a conversation with the Southern Theater Commander, the Eastern Theater Commander, and the Northern Theater Commander on how we can ensure we operate safely. So, competition is just that. Right? The National Defense Strategy articulated a position of competition. That means that we will cooperate where we can, and we’ll compete where we must. That competition is based on what we believe is a set of rules and a set of guidance that we are keen to promote. Freedom of navigation in the global commons. Freedoms as desired by all people. Peaceful settlement of disputes for rule of law and human rights. So, we’re ready to have those conversations, and I think those are the areas of competition that we want to make sure that we can sustain and maintain.
ORLINS: In the back there in the blue shirt.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, Admiral. Hi, Steve. I’m a Navy veteran myself, although a very short time. I’m just curious. I want to point out that the ratification of the UNCLOS, it’s really the U.S. Senate, thanks to the Republicans, who have refused to do that. And then my actual question is for the FONOPs to work is it possible for the U.S. Navy, say, the public affairs officers announce to the audience that, you know, some of which are actually just innocent passages? Can you make that distinction in your press release or in the tweets out of the Pacific fleet so that the audience actually knows not all of the FONOPs out there are, you know, in the eyes of the Chinese audience that they’re kind of, like, feeling, like, that’s a bit aggressive and whatnot? Thank you.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I kind of missed the question. What do you want my public affairs shop to do? Because he’s sitting right here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah. To let people know that, you know, some of these FONOPs are actually just innocent passages where, you know, you kinda, like, turn off all the firearms and whatnot to indicate to people, well, maybe you’re recognizing the territorial sea and whatnot but it’s really showing to the audience globally that the United States Navy are not kind of like aggressive toward, you know, the areas that they are navigating to so that, you know, people who are maybe like me who are doves who would just like to see that for a change.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah. We’ll take that back. And again, what I’m going to ask you to do after this, talk to my public affairs officer, Captain Kyle Raines, who’s sitting up here and we’ll see. If we’re not being clear enough, that’s certainly something we should take on. So, I appreciate that.
ORLINS: Let me go to Tony Miller, my partner in a former life when I was in business.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Hey, before we go, let me say one thing, though. Just be cautious about what you’re looking and reading as it applies to information coming out of PACOM. So, every month Captain Raines kills about somewhere between 200 and 250 illegal false Facebook sites of me. So, when we talk about misinformation, disinformation and some concern, I guess number one is don’t believe everything you read, but Kyle can make sure that if you’re looking at the official INDOPACOM website, that’s pretty good, but we all ought to be cautious about what’s out there in the public space. Again, I’m not kidding, between 200 and 250 Facebook and other social media sites a month because I don’t have one.
ORLINS: Mr. Miller.
ANTHONY MILLER: Thank you, Steve. I’m Tony Miller from PAG and I’m based in Japan. And I thought your response was a good segue to my question. If you could comment, how do you think generative AI enhances our military capabilities, and perhaps how does generative AI complicate the competition between the U.S. and China militarily?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah, thanks. I think it’s got a ton of military capabilities whether it’s in actual development of weapon systems and autonomy or it’s through the lens of what we consider decision superiority. But bottom line is when you look at millions and millions and trillions of bits of data, turning that into the ability for understanding the information space, turning it into knowledge and ultimately turning it into wisdom, there’s huge potential there militarily. The concern is that if you decide to take the human completely out of the loop, there’s concern for civilian casualties. I mean, there’s a variety of vignettes that would be concerning. But it does have tremendous military applicability. I’m also very confident that as we weave it into the United States military, the ability to protect human life and how we execute that is directly involved in our approaches.
NELSON DONG: Admiral, my name is Nelson Dong. I’m a member of the National Committee Board. Could I ask for you to pivot a little bit and talk about the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and their threat profile in your theater?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah, thanks, sir. It’s good to see you. So, the most aggressive set of provocations that we’ve seen in their history, right, 70 missile launches last year. So, they’re increasing their delivery mechanisms and capability. They’re also increasing their desire for nuclear capability. That’s a concerning world. Matter of fact, this is one of the areas we believe we could cooperate with China. China clearly has a relationship with the DPRK that we do not. We have advocated for and hope that they would be able to engage with KJU and tell him that these actions are not beneficial, they’re actually destabilizing. They threaten the United States’ allies and partners, specifically the Republic of Korea, Japan. And their missile capability is now extending further out, so they’re threatening… They could reach all the nations in the region. So, it’s incredibly destabilizing. We continue to solicit assistance from the PRC to help tamp this down and inform KJU that that’s not within his best interests, nor within the PRC’s best interests, nor within any of the nations in the region’s interests.
HELENA KOLENDA: Thank you. I’m Helena Kolenda at the Luce Foundation here in New York. After that big question, I have, I think, a relatively small one, but it’s something someone asked me recently and I didn’t know the answer, and that has to do with surveillance flights in China. Does China do the equivalent surveillance flights near the U.S.?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, sometimes. Not necessarily flights, but they execute surveillance operations. I’ll go back all the way to 2014. During the Rim of the Pacific exercise, right, 26 nations coming together to operate together, do humanitarian assistance, and operate peacefully. China was invited. They sent a ship. They also sent an intelligence-gathering ship. That ship drove all the way to 12 miles within the United States in the vicinity of Hawaii. The United States did not make one criticism of the fact that that occurred. That said, I want to make sure we’re clear. The United States surveillance operations do not just operate in the Pacific, nor do they operate specifically against the PRC. We execute surveillance operations globally.
KOLENDA: So, as long as it’s the 12-mile limit, if there are surveillance operations by other countries, the United States would not object?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: The United States is foundationally supportive of the international rules-based order, as I described. That means is interpreted by UNCLOS 1982. Twelve miles is the territorial sea and airspace limit. All nations can operate inside the global commons wherever they want.
KOLENDA: Thank you.
ORLINS: Our chairman, Secretary [Jacob J.] Lew.
SECRETARY LEW: Thanks, Steve. Thank you very much, Admiral. I wanted to ask you a question maybe to take you across from the military into the economic. After weeks and recent months of increased tension in the economic space in both directions where, you know, we’ve imposed restrictions on exports of sensitive materials to China, China has responded by taking actions against American businesses in China. How do you, through a security lens, see the increase of tensions in the economic relation having an impact, if at all?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah. Thanks, Mr. Secretary. So, again, I’m just going to be clear to stay in my military lane. That said, the Secretary of Defense articulated his approach and strategy or the implementation strategy of the National Defense Strategy is this view of integrated deterrence, right? So, integrated deterrence, as he has discussed it, is pulling together all forms of national power with the joint force and our allies and partners operating in all domains to prevent conflict. So, there’s certainly an aspect of the economic piece of this. And again, I’m thankful for the rest of the whole of government to pull together those actions. You’ve watched some of them in the form of the CHIPS Act, the protection of some of our critical technologies. I think that’s what that should look like. That said, we need to compete. We need to compete in all forms specific and/or economically maybe one of the most important pieces.
ORLINS: When I lived in Hong Kong, the fleet used to come in around Thanksgiving. And we would host sailors from the fleet at our house so they could have a Thanksgiving dinner, sat at our house in Hong Kong. And my kids used to love this. I mean, they would come, they would have dinner, and then we’d go and we’d get a tour of the aircraft carrier, which was just a highlight for them every year. And, obviously, things have changed enormously in Hong Kong. But wouldn’t it be symbolically kind of so interesting to have the fleet visit Hong Kong again or you think the Chinese won’t allow it and we wouldn’t do it?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Well, first, thanks for taking care of our sailors when they came to Hong Kong.
ORLINS: Thanksgiving dinner, I did. The kids loved it.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: I’ll remind all the New Yorkers it’s fleet week, so feel free to take a sailor home. Certainly, if you’re out and you see him in town, thank them for their service. Steve, I don’t think it’s out of the question. That said, you know, the most recent impact, as you just said, you know, what has occurred in Hong Kong, to include the law that was passed with it, is pretty concerning. So, I won’t say it’s out of the question. I think that’s something that we should certainly look at in the future. It would have to be coordinated and negotiated between the two governments. So, nothing is out of the question, but, boy, there’s some things that would have to be, you know, adjusted and discussed.
ORLINS: All right, we have a very few minutes. So, we go here, because you’ve had your hand up since the very beginning, and then to the woman behind you.
ROBERT DELANEY: Thank you very much. Robert Delaney with the South China Morning Post, Washington DC Bureau. Just a quick question, Admiral, about the security pact that China signed with the Solomon Islands. That apparently caused a lot of concern within the Biden administration and then we’ve seen a lot of diplomatic efforts with the Pacific Island nations, ending up with a trip that you’ve just come back from. Could you give us a bit of your understanding of the nature of that pact between China and Solomon Islands? How much does this concern you? How detrimental is it for the efforts that you push forward in that theater? Thank you.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah, thanks. First, I don’t think I can tell you very much about that agreement at all because it’s not very transparent. Again, part of the problem and what I talked about in my conversation, which is transparency in all things. Right? There’s an economic piece of transparency that’s critical when you talk about free markets. Those security agreements as well. So, to answer your question, I’d like to see it and I ultimately don’t know what’s in it, nor does the rest of the nations. What I will tell you is that the continued attempt by the PRC to drive wedges between the United States, our friends, partners, and allies is persistent across the globe. So, the Pacific Islands, the United States, as well as our partners, and specifically leaders in the region in the form of Australia and New Zealand, were all surprised. So, I think what we learned is that we have to ensure we continue our engagement with those places and our friends throughout the globe. And that includes the Pacific Islands.
ORLINS: Right behind.
EVA FU: Hi, my name is Eva Fu. I’m a reporter for The Epoch Times. And my question is, so, the United States just recently signed a security arrangement agreement with Papua New Guinea. How would you envision such an agreement to improve the United States’ capacity to deter the Chinese aggressions? And would you be in favor of such an agreement, similar arrangements being made with other regional powers?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: So, the United States is always willing to work with our like-minded countries across the region and across the globe. This agreement is an upgraded version of a previous agreement and it allows us to do many things together, specifically train, help to build out the capacity of Papua New Guinea. Their chief of defense, General Gowena, is a good friend. I also, when I was in Papua New Guinea, delivered over $5.5 million worth of protective equipment for his force. That was a request from him and his government. And for a commander, the protection of your force is the most critical priority of any commander. So, we worked very quickly to provide that for his force. That said, we’re ready to cooperate with all nations. We have a deep history with Papua New Guinea. Three hundred forty thousand Americans fought in that campaign. It was one of the longest of World War II. We fought side by side with the people of Papua New Guinea, as well as with the Australians in that region. So, our history, our people-to-people ties, our values, and we’ll continue to strengthen our defense posture with them. But that just doesn’t go for them. All like-minded nations we’re ready to cooperate with and expand our engagement.
ORLINS: So, speaking of Papua New Guinea, everybody realizes Admiral Aquilino arrived from Papua New Guinea at 2:00 this morning. So, let me take one final question from Bob Pietrzak, then give Admiral Aquilino a rest.
A. ROBERT PIETRZAK: Thank you, Admiral. And congratulations on your shoeshine. You have to tell us where you get that done. I’m a member of the board of the National Committee. And I think the concern, biggest concern of most of us is the lack of dialogue, the lack of channels to keep things bad from happening. I know we’ve had difficulty. You’ve mentioned that you’ve had difficulty continuing those dialogue on the military side. But we do have partners. And have they had any more success than we have in having a military dialogue with China? And if so, what can we learn from that? And more generally, what can we do to improve the dialogue between us?
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Yeah. Thanks for that. There are certainly other nations who have the ability to communicate. That said, right up until the PRC said they don’t want to communicate with them, right? That’s the position we find ourselves. We have worked across the Defense Department to open and make more consistent that dialogue. I can’t force them to do what they don’t want to do. So, if we had the answer, we’d have fixed this. I’m going on two years now of requests. I don’t know what else we can do. I’ll also say that we execute once a year all the chiefs of defense from the region get together, put together by USINDOPACOM. We’ve done two of those to date. On top of the once-a-year in-person, we also get together virtually about two to three other times per year just so that the leadership can stay connected. The PRC has been asked to participate in all of those. And in two years, they’ve participated in two, none of them in person, two virtual events. So, again, there’s multiple paths from the U.S. to try to generate this dialogue. And again, we hope, as the president said, he predicted a bit of a thawing. That’d be good. The request will continue to go and, hopefully, we can have that conversation.
ORLINS: This has been a fabulous discussion. Thank you so much, really. From getting in at 2:00 in the morning, you didn’t show any wear and tear. And as I said at the beginning, when I listen to you, I always feel safer. So, thank you so much.
ADMIRAL AQUILINO: Thanks, Steve.