Thank you for that introduction. And a special thanks to John Chipman and our Singaporean hosts for their stellar work in organizing this pan-Asian gathering every year.
It’s a pleasure to be back at the Shangri-La Dialogue once again. This event clearly has no peer in Asia. We all make time to come here because the Dialogue offers an unbeatable mix: cutting-edge topics, world-renowned experts, and senior security officials working together for three days.
In the 12 months since I last joined you, I have visited many countries represented here, including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, and Japan. And tomorrow, I will travel to see old friends in the Kingdom of Thailand, a longstanding ally. For those who worry that Iraq and Afghanistan have distracted the United States from Asia and developments in this region, I would counter that we have never been more engaged with more countries. Indeed, this is my fourth major trip to Asia in my 18 months in this job – and my second in three months.
As we carry on our discussions I would like to pause for a moment to offer my condolences to the many who have suffered, who lost loved ones, and face incredible difficulties as a result of recent tragedies in Burma and China. Amid the pain and the suffering, it has been heartening to see so much international cooperation by so many in this room. Many governments are doing everything they can to help save lives and rebuild livelihoods.
Ladies and gentlemen, over the past three decades an enormous swathe of Asia has changed almost beyond recognition. By any measure – financial, technological, industrial, trade, educational, or cultural – Asia has become the center of gravity in a rapidly globalizing world. This is an Asia where hundreds of millions have risen from poverty to better and better living standards, many into relative affluence, as a result of cooperation, openness, and mutual security. At the same time, this new Asia is understandably eager to redefine itself and to redefine its security relationships to the rest of the world.
So today, I want to discuss these relationships and emphasize three points:
First, the United States is a Pacific nation with an enduring role in Asia. We welcome Asia’s rise. Our continued presence in this part of the world has been an essential element enabling this rise – opening doors, protecting and preserving common spaces on the high seas, in space, and more and more in the cyber world. This presence has offered other nations the crucial element of choice and enabled their entry into a globalized international society.
Second, I want to stress that we stand for openness, and against exclusivity, and in favor of common use of common spaces in responsible ways that sustain and drive forward our mutual prosperity.
Third, and finally, as someone who has served seven United States presidents, I want to convey to you with confidence that any future U. S. administration’s Asia security policy is going to be grounded in the fact that the United States remains a nation with strong and enduring interests in this region – interests that will endure no matter which political party occupies the White House next.
For the last 60 years, America has added consistent value to the Asian security equation. That remains a reality today just as it has been in the past. The security of all Asian countries – whether large or small – is strongly and positively enhanced by a strong U.S. presence. America plays many roles in Asia: as an ally, partner, and friend; as a routine offshore presence; as a resident power; and as an agent of professionalism and capacity in service to a range of non-military needs, such as disaster response – a point emphasized by our readiness to help after the tragic cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China.
Our alliances are the foundation of our security presence, enabled and strengthened by our relationships with partners and friends.
In Northeast Asia, mature alliances bind us to Japan and the Republic of Korea. These alliances are being transformed to fit the realities of the 21st century. The Republic of Korea is assuming more responsibility for its own defense while the United States reduces its footprint. We are realigning and refocusing our forces in Japan while cooperating in new areas such as missile defense. Down Under, the Australians remain our stalwart allies and partners.
Aside from these primary security anchors, we maintain other formal treaty alliances throughout the region, including the Philippines and Thailand. Over the years, each has altered its treaty focus with us; it is natural that they should do so. Yet vital security interaction continues with both countries, each aware that this special American connection adds to, or even enables, its freedom of maneuver.
Our relations with partners and friends, and our engagement in Asia, are more and more the fabric that binds together what is becoming a web of relationships including our growing ties with India and our increasing engagement with China. While different in form and scope, we value these ties with Asia’s two most prominent rising powers.
A few moments ago I referenced the U.S. as a “resident power.” By that term I mean there is sovereign American territory in the western Pacific, from the Aleutian Islands all the way down to Guam. I have just come from that island where, with vital help from our Japanese allies, we are adding to our military presence with new air, naval, and Marine assets – prepared to respond quickly to new contingencies.
Our Asian friends, whether or not they are formally allied to us, welcome our growing presence on Guam. As the island’s new facilities take shape in coming years, they will be increasingly multilateral in orientation, with training opportunities and possible pre-positioning of assets.
In recent years, discussions about a “new security architecture” in Asia have assumed more prominence. We certainly share an interest in institutionalizing various forums to deal with region-specific problems, and we intend to participate in their evolution. In the meantime, we will continue to depend on our time-tested Asian alliance architecture, a framework embracing many overlapping security relationships and still evolving after the end of the Cold War. Our security activities include training, military professionalism education, transit arrangements, joint exercises, and also the sharing of strategic perceptions.
As I say, these arrangements run the full gamut. Last year, we participated in a multilateral naval exercise hosted by India. At this year’s Cobra Gold exercise, Thailand hosted forces from Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, and the United States. Nine nations, including China, India, and Pakistan were welcomed as observers. The Cobra Gold exercise today no longer resembles what it had been for much of the past quarter of a century – a bilateral, mostly conventional set of military maneuvers with Thailand. This year’s exercise focused on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance – activities that form a vital part of contemporary security arrangements, as recent events illustrate all too well.
As you know, American ships and aircraft diverted their earlier Cobra Gold operational plans to help provide, once country approval was received, rapid relief to victims of cyclone Nargis in Burma. Our ships and aircraft awaited country approval so they could act promptly to save thousands of lives – approval of the kind granted by Indonesia immediately after the 2004 tsunami and by Bangladesh after a fierce cyclone just last November. We worked with both nations to alleviate suffering, while fastidiously respecting their sovereignty.
With Burma, the situation has been very different – at a cost of tens of thousands of lives. Many other countries besides the United States also have felt hindered in their efforts. Despite these obstructions, we continue to get help into Burma and remain poised to provide more. Indeed, we have shown in recent weeks our determination to give our entire support to save lives, using every channel to get relief to the victims. We welcome ASEAN’s leadership, and look forward to the quick emergence of a mechanism that can help international assistance reach those who need it.
As demonstrated recently, the United States military – even with its ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – remains engaged with most Asian governments, doing more things in more constructive ways than at any time in our history. With China, for example, I recently inaugurated our direct Defense Telephone Link in a call with Defense Minister Liang. We have also begun a series of dialogues on strategic issues to help us understand one another better, and to avoid possible misunderstanding. With India, we have deepened defense and security interactions over time with successive governments in New Delhi. There are many other examples of our defense cooperation, including many of our friends in the South Pacific.
We welcome these security exchanges, some modest, some quite substantial. Some countries have formalized these activities with us; others prefer a low-profile engagement. We favor any method that enhances mutual security and confidence.
What we have seen in Asia in recent years marks a shift that reflects new thinking in overall U.S. defense strategy. We are building partner-nation capacity so friends can better defend themselves. While preserving all of our conventional military deterrence abilities as traditionally understood, we have become more attentive to both “hard” and “soft” elements of national power, where military, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and humanitarian elements fold into one another to ensure better long-term security based on our own capabilities and those of our partners.
This approach brings various parts of the United States government together to work with diverse partners and friends across a range of shared interests – from old allies such as Australia, to those with whom we were once too distant, like India, to former adversaries like Vietnam. In all instances, our involvement enables our friends in Asia to have more choice with their security policy decisions.
In short, American engagement in Asia remains a top priority for us. Our alliances and partnerships are stronger, and our relationships are always maturing and evolving to reflect changing times. Far from frozen in a Cold War paradigm, our presence in Asia is designed to meet our mutual challenges in the 21st century.
Which brings me to my second discussion point: whether we wish to persevere with an open, transparent, and mutually beneficial future, or whether we risk blundering into a future where competition and exclusion set the pattern.
The foundation of prosperity in this part of the world – a prosperity that is in turn fueling the defense capacity of Asia’s emergent powers – rests on respect for international norms and a common responsibility to protect common resources even while pursuing individual agendas. Indeed, Asia’s most determined advocates of sovereign prerogative have benefited most from adherence to common norms.
In my Asian travels, I hear my hosts worry about the security implications of rising demand for resources, and about coercive diplomacy and other pressures that can lead to disruptive competitions. We should not forget that globalization has permitted our shared rise in wealth over recent decades; this achievement rests above all on openness: openness of trade, openness of ideas, and openness of what I would call the “common areas” – whether in the maritime, space, or cyber domains.
Indeed, even the “open regionalism” espoused by ASEAN is part of this system – a rules-based system that has given states and their citizens unparalleled opportunity and prosperity. Without this system and without its rules, tensions can rise quickly when sovereign states compete over resources.
American policy continues to support efforts that maintain this system. For example, we welcomed back in the mid-1990s moves toward a “code of conduct” among states with competing territorial and resource claims in South China Sea. We stressed then, as we do today, that we do not favor one claim, or one claimant country, over another. We urged then, as we do today, the maintenance of a calm and non-assertive environment in which contending claims may be discussed and, if possible, resolved. All of us in Asia must ensure that our actions are not seen as pressure tactics, even when they coexist beside outward displays of cooperation.
The trust engendered by openness and transparency benefits every member of the region, as we have seen in recent decades. It is the primary reason the United States seeks more openness in military modernization in Asia. Transparency enhances confidence and reduces competitive arms spending. The same applies to the way in which sovereign governments make their national security decisions.
In this regard, when confronted with a defunct satellite that was de-orbiting rapidly, and posing a danger of spreading toxic hydrazine upon re-entry, the United States organized an effective response in February of this year. We did this in an open manner where the plan to engage the satellite was made public well in advance of the intercept date.
As security officials, we here this morning know better than most how perceptions often drive reality. And how a lack of clarity about a neighbor’s strategic intentions all too often prompts reliance, and sometimes over-reliance, on counter-strategies and hedging that can, over time, yield to outright suspicion. This is a direction we seek to avoid.
Instead, we desire to work with every country in Asia to deepen our understanding of their military and defense finances, and to do so on a reciprocal basis. We do so in a sincere and open effort to avoid misreading intentions and so that we can continue our work as strategic partners.
For the most part, I believe the overall trends in Asia are positive, and, where they are not, I see us working together more and more to address common problems with mechanisms like the Six Party Talks. I can assure you that the United States – because of our interests and because of our values – will not only remain engaged, but will become even more so in the decades ahead.
And so the third and final subject I want to discuss is the type of defense and security policies that the new United States administration is likely to pursue after it takes office next January.
While I cannot predict the specifics of a new President’s Asia policy, certain elements can already be discerned above and beyond the time-tested principles of strategic access, freedom of commerce and navigation, and freedom from domination by any hegemonic force or coalition.
Let me deal with the easiest proposition first. Any speculation in the region about the United States losing interest in Asia strikes me as either preposterous, or disingenuous, or both. America’s status in Asia rests on long-standing interests and deeply held notions about the basic character of the United States. Projecting outward from our Pacific coastline, the U.S. has had a cultural, economic, educational, geographic, historical, and political presence in Asia since the 19th century. However, we understand that our friends, partners, and allies at times need reassurance. We will offer that consistently, and I hope I have done so today.
The next U.S. administration seems certain to continue the overlapping, long-standing, security partnerships that I’ve outlined. It will also inherit an agenda of worrying issues. This means no change in our drive to temper North Korea’s ambitions, a policy not possible without China’s valued cooperation. Beyond this center stage issue, I suspect that the new administration will also find strategic inspiration in America’s dual role – as a resident power and as the “straddle power” across the Asia Pacific.
Let me close with a few general comments.
We here at this Dialogue all wish for a peaceful and prosperous 21st century, but we also know that nothing is guaranteed.
The United States notes the stirrings of a new regionalism, a pan-Asian search for new frameworks to encompass and thereby moderate inter-state competition. We welcome the resulting search for a “new security architecture,” a search that is still provisional and, by its nature, complementary to the peace and order that prevail today with the help and support of so many of our friends. The search for this regional architecture will continue – after all, one can hardly suggest that it is appropriate for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to develop regional security institutions, but not for Asia to do so.
However, we do have some benchmarks. For starters, we should avoid an approach that treats the quest for a new security architecture as some kind of zero-sum game. The fact is the region as whole has benefited in recent decades because of cooperation on issues of common concern. The collaborative reality of Asia’s security today is to the exclusion of no single country. It is instead a continuously developing enterprise undertaken with allies, friends, and partners. But it can only succeed if we treat the region as a single entity. There is little room for a separate “East Asian” order.
Our second benchmark is a willingness to work with partners and friends to facilitate the evolution of security arrangements suitable to our common needs. We will work to ensure that the United States continues to be welcomed in coming years in this part of the world, as we have been in the past.
It is for the next administration to work with Asian leaders to identify these trends and to make them work for the benefit of all of Asia, a region to which the United States belongs and in which we shall stay. As the next administration calibrates and refines these important relationships, it is bound to be guided by a single imperative: to make each of our links more relevant, more resilient, more responsive, and more enduring.
For all our friends and partners in this part of the world, that remains our goal.
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