United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


Background Briefing En Route to Malaysia

Presenter: Press Secretary George Little; Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog; Senior Defense Officials
August 22, 2013 12:00 PM EDT

         GEORGE LITTLE: Good to have all of you join us.  We're going to background this trip.  This is the secretary's second visit to the Asia Pacific region as secretary.  He's coming up on the six-month mark as secretary of defense.  As you all know, he was in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue a few months ago, and it's very likely that we will return to the region sometime later this year.

         I have two esteemed colleagues.  Many of you know them quite well – [Senior Defense Official One] -- and [Senior Defense Official Two] -- both eminent in their field and terrific guys to boot.  They will be identified as senior defense officials.

         With that, I'm going to turn it over to – [Senior Defense Official One] -- for the first song.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Okay.  I'll just say one thing my wife always remarks on Southeast Asians.  They do karaoke without getting drunk first.  We just don't understand how that goes.  But -- (Laughter) -- a lot of things about this part of the world we're going to are going to be confusing to us, but in any case, what I want to do is, at the outset, just kind of debunk a myth.  There's a myth out there, reports of the end of the rebalance, that we can't fund the rebalance, are greatly exaggerated.

         And I'm going to explain, I think, in general terms how to think about the secretary's trip as further evidence of our commitment to a very successful rebalance and a sustained and long-term rebalance.  And then – [Senior Defense Official Two] -- will kind of walk through some of the specifics on each of these stops.

         I think the first thing -- let me just step back.  It's been a while since we've talked about this.  What is the rebalance?  It's, of course, built on a premise that our country's long-term interests are increasingly tied up in the Asia Pacific region.  And not only our country's, but the world's interests and the global economy is increasingly tied up with what happens in and around this region.

         So based on that premise, the rebalance is a strategy to pursue our interest over the long term throughout the 21st century.  It's a long-term strategy.  And it's an all-of-government strategy.  It's not just the defense strategic guidance, but it's all of government.

         Any strategy has ends, ways, and means.  And as I said at the outset, often strategies are judged if there's a problem with means.  But what I want to convey is that it's a sound strategy.  The ends are pretty clear.  The means will -- or, excuse me, the ways will vary over time, but I want to clarify what our ways are and what the secretary will be doing to support those, and the means will vary over time.  But we have adequate means to support this strategy and to do so for the foreseeable future.

         So the ends.  What we're trying to do is uphold a regional order that really has persisted for a long time that's led to the remarkable peace and prosperity in Asia.  It's really been remarkable, if you look at the last several decades around the world.

         What are these principles?  Principles of free trade, free access, free commerce, peaceful resolution of disputes.  There are disputed claims to territory and to resources in this part of the world.  There are contested borders.  But generally, these have been dealt with through peaceful means, so it's to continue that process, to strengthen mechanisms to resolve these peacefully, and increasingly also free access to cyberspace, new domains that we're talking about.  So these ends are -- should be familiar to you.  We've talked about these before.  They're consistent; they're enduring.

         The ways.  There are really four specific ways we pursue these ends.  The first -- and, again, this secretary's trip, his second in just a few months, second in six months on the job -- there will be a third probably within nine months on the job -- so, you know, an average of one trip to Asia every three months.  That's -- you have senior-level attention and engagement.  And it's really remarkable, the focus not just of the secretary of defense, but all cabinet officers and, frankly, the president.

         The president, I think as you know, will be coming back to Asia in October.  He goes to the East Asia summit October 10 and 11 and will make other stops in the region at that time.  So it's the entire senior leadership.  It's engagement not just in travel, but in focus on these issues internally, in internal meetings, as well.

         The secretary of defense is particularly committed, I think, in his short term, six months, has already met with -- has already had engagements with probably over a dozen heads of state and ministers of defense from this part of the world.  Pretty remarkable.  And, again, it signifies his level of personal commitment and attention to this issue.

         You also -- I won't go through this, but I think when you look at senior leader engagement in this part of the world, it's a testimony to the whole-of-government aspect, trade, commerce, investment, diplomacy, and development activities, in addition to defense activities.

         And I think what you'll hear in the secretary's speech that he'll give, he'll be referring to some of these broader themes, as well, not just the defense side, but talking about how the defense engagement nests in this broader whole-of-government engagement.

         The second area is increased bilateral cooperation, again, typified by senior-level visits, but there's more and more engagement at all levels with our treaty allies in the region and our other partners in the region.  It occupies more and more time within the Pentagon these relationships, being sensitive to the concerns, the desires, the fears of the countries in this part of the world, being attentive to those, and engaging with them actively and in a meaningful way.  And, again, the engagement is multifaceted: defense, economic development, and security.

         Each of these countries is -- in the aftermath of the Cold War and, in many cases, their own colonial experience are very -- they cling very closely to their sovereignty.  Sovereignty is very important.  So they regard our orientation and security cooperation in very positive terms, where the focus is helping them develop and enrich their own defense capacities.

         And there are two areas where this tends to dominate.  It's to help them have capabilities for maritime domain awareness.  A lot of these countries -- I think all except for Laos, I think, are -- you know, are countries on the ocean.  And their interests are tied up with oceanic and maritime issues.  In the past, they've had often a very dim awareness of what's going on.  Whether it's piracy, poaching, other security issues, we're helping them gain a greater awareness of what's going on in the region and ability to defend their own sovereign interests and rights.

         The other area is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  This part of the world is prone to a lot of natural disasters, as you all know.  And so it's increasingly important for the elected leaders, the heads of state of these countries, to have the capacity to help their populations recover or anticipate and prevent disaster when it comes.  So these two areas are the focus of our bilateral security cooperation, which -- with each of the countries in the region, and it's very, very well appreciated.

         Not only in our bilateral cooperation are we focused on Southeast Asian states, our bilateral cooperation with China is incredibly important.  You covered the secretary's visit with his counterpart, Minister of Defense General Chang.  It was a very -- very, very positive meeting, as you know, very significant.  He will meet him again here on the margins of the activities in Brunei, and I think it'll be a significant meeting.

         This partnership -- and particularly the mil-mil or defense aspect of the overall bilateral partnership is really going through a very positive, interesting phase, and the secretary will follow up on the very, very useful discussions he had with his counterpart just the other day in Washington in his meetings here.

         So these -- I mentioned the two ways, senior-level attention and engagement and also emphasis on our partners and allies.  The third engagement -- third priority -- is our force posture in the region.  The simple fact is to be relevant to the security issues in the region you need to be present.  We cannot be an offshore -- we cannot engage from the United States.  We need to engage from being local, being present, being relevant.

         In an HA/DR, humanitarian assistance or disaster relief scenario, you need to be able to respond.  First responders need to respond quickly.  We need to have forces here in the region to help local countries respond to these issues.

         So this is significant.  And you know we've made some agreements in recent years, Australia, Singapore, beefed-up agreements with Japan, also South Korea, to ensure we can have an adequate, robust military presence to respond to a wide range of contingencies.

         One of the things that the secretary will be doing is talking to his counterparts and the head of state of the Philippines about another such agreement, working with the Philippines on a framework agreement to enable U.S. forces to operate on Philippine military bases, in Philippine territory and waters, and enable us to help beef up the capacity of the Philippines' armed forces.

          So this is a discussion and negotiations that are actively underway right now, and the secretary's visit will be part of that discussion, very, very important discussion.

         The final issue I'll talk about is the regional security architecture.  We live in an interdependent world.  Countries need to cooperate and work together to respond to the problems that are increasingly complex, and I think no part of the world where you have seen a more dramatic level of cooperation to deal with as wide-ranging a set of problems as you see with ASEAN.

         We've committed to ASEAN.  We support the whole family of ASEAN organizations.  And in particular, the secretary is reiterating and continuing the commitment to support the ASEAN defense minister's meeting, ADMM, and the ADMM-Plus, which is eight other countries, in addition to the 10 ASEANs.  So it's the United States, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India – and that’s 10 -- okay, I mean, eight.  That's my eight.

         So at every -- it had been every three years.  Starting out, we'll go every two years, this group gets together and has an annual meeting, and that's what's taking place here.  So this is the second one of these engagements.

         And the ASEAN defense ministers forum themselves are pretty remarkable.  It's probably the most action-oriented grouping of the ASEAN family.  ASEAN had been criticized in the past as being a talk shop, whether deserved or not deserved, but certainly the ADMM is an action-oriented group.  And you'll be hearing more about this on the trip.  I mean, the exercises -- the range of activities -- and – [Senior Defense Official Two] -- can talk to you a little bit more about this, too -- it's really impressive what they've done in just a couple of years, where they're getting countries working together, countries in the ASEAN, countries from outside ASEAN, working together collectively and exercises, scenarios, planning to deal with problems collectively.

         So we want to support that.  We believe that strengthening multilateral institutions based on ASEAN actually enhances security, economic prosperity, and political stability in the region.  So essentially, those are the ways we pursue this.  And, again, the means vary.  You all are tracking, you know, what's going on in the defense budget.  You're tracking the secretary's Strategic Choices Management Review.  And I can assure you that what the secretary has put into place, with the SCMR, but also what he's directed Ash Carter to do, the deputy, with his DMAG process, is continue to find ways to put priority on Asia Pacific.

         So when it comes to -- you pick it -- international military training, we have resources for military training.  We work this in conjunction with the State Department.  We use these mechanisms to prioritize training and engagement with countries in the Asia Pacific.

         So even in a period where overall defense budget's going down, we're able to shift resources and continue the focus and prioritization on this part of the world. Sometimes to the chagrin of interests in other parts of the world, other COCOMs and so forth, but here we're continuing the focus and the priority.

         So that's an overview.  Let me turn it to – [Senior Defense Official Two] -- to go into specifics and then some Q&A.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  Great.  Thanks – [Senior Defense Official One] -- hey, everybody.  All wide awake, ready for a Mai Tai in Hawaii, maybe.  Okay.  So where -- we are headed to -- after Hawaii, we'll be going first to Malaysia, then Jakarta, Indonesia, then Brunei, and then the Philippines, and so I'll just touch really quickly on each, and I won't talk too long.  You got a good overview from [Senior Defense Official One] and we'll, you know, move over to some Q&A.

         We're going to -- in Malaysia, we'll -- the secretary will be seeing his counterpart, Minister of Defense Hishammuddin, who he actually he already saw in Singapore recently, so this is their second meeting, and it is a -- and the minister has recently taken up his position, so they're getting off to a -- they're getting off to a good start, building a relationship.

         Really, Malaysia-U.S. defense ties have dramatically improved over the last several years.  We're doing a lot more cooperative activities.  We're doing a lot more together.  This is an opportunity for them to really touch base on the bilateral defense relationship, see where we're headed, you know, in the -- in the years ahead.  He'll see Prime Minister Najib, also talk about overall defense relations and talk a lot about regional issues.  The -- Malaysia is, of course, one of the countries that is a claimant in the South China Sea, so we'll talk about regional issues.  He'll have an opportunity to talk to them a little bit about -- have an opportunity to talk to them a little bit about his recent consultations with his Chinese counterpart, which I think will be of great interest throughout the region.

         From Malaysia, we're moving on to Jakarta, Indonesia, where the secretary will see his counterpart, Minister Purnomo.  Again, with Indonesia, we also have significant increase in defense cooperation over the last several years.  We've got a lot of bilateral issues to work on.  He'll be -- we'll be in Jakarta, really, quite -- just a week or -- a week or so before we and the Indonesians are co-hosting one of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting exercises that – [Senior Defense Official One] -- was mentioning earlier.  So we and Indonesia will be co-chairing a counterterrorism exercise next week -- is it next week, guys -- is it next week?  5 to 13 September, so in the next couple of weeks.

         Q:  (off mic)

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  A [counterterrorism] exercise.

         Q:  (off mic) ground?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  On the ground.  The -- we'll be -- he'll be seeing the Indonesian president.  As I think many of you know, President Yudhoyono has really been a great leader of Indonesia.  Indonesia is a very -- is a -- you know, has a lot of influence in the region, and he's actually entering his last year in office, so it's a nice opportunity for us to touch base with him, you know, thank Indonesia for a lot of really tremendous cooperation in the last -- in the last several years.

         We're going to go on from there to the main event.  The main event is the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus, the plus being the eight countries, the ASEAN defense ministers being the 10 ASEAN nations.  And this is the second time this ministerial has ever happened, so it's important that we're there.  And, really, the ADMM is important for us to be at for two -- two reasons.

         One is, it is -- it is proving to be an extremely action-focused forum in ASEAN.  The ADMM countries have three multilateral exercises this year.  I think as many of you know, one of our focuses in the rebalance to Asia is actually shifting from a history of almost primarily bilateral engagements, to do more and more multilateral engagements, to do more with groups and countries to meet common challenges.  And ADMM is giving us a very, very good way to do that.  Brunei recently hosted a major humanitarian assistance/disaster response and military medicine exercise that included all 18 of the countries that will be here, over 3,000 personnel.

         We -- when we see those as sort of, really, part of the wave of the future, how common challenges are going to be handled in this region.  So being an ADMM is an opportunity to, you know, continue focusing with this group of countries on doing that kind of action-oriented stuff, on the defense side.

         We're -- it's also a good opportunity to engage with a lot of -- with our partners all in one place, and so the secretary will be able to have some bilateral engagements – [Senior Defense Official One]-- mentioned he'll see his Chinese counterpart.  He'll also see a few other -- a few other of his ministerial counterparts for a short -- for short side meetings.

         From there, we're going to hit Manila.  And I think -- [Senior Defense Official One] -- touched on the main -- the main point of being in -- in Manila on this trip is going to be to discuss some of the specifics of the ongoing negotiations on a framework agreement for increasing our rotational presence through the Philippines.

         Those negotiations just got underway a week ago, basically, and will be ongoing for some time, but this is a chance for the secretary to sit down and touch base with President Aquino and his counterpart, Minister Gazmin, as well as the foreign minister there in the Philippines on this, and overall consult again on regional issues and reaffirm our commitment to the mutual defense treaty, which is what this framework agreement will sort of exist underneath.

         So that's the -- that's just wave tops of the trip and happy to -- we're happy to take questions.

         Q:  On that last point about the negotiations with the Philippines, should we expect any developments along those lines while we're there?  Or is it just to touch base, as you said?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  No, we've actually -- we've had one round of negotiations so far, so this will be -- this will be a process.  And the negotiating teams are going to be meeting again somewhere around when we're -- right around when we're there, the negotiating team will be in Washington for round two, so there will be some time before it's sort of, hey, we've got something locked and ready to go.  But the -- but it is -- it's the right time for them to sort of sit down and talk about where they want to be and when and what some of the details might be.

         Q:  So the agreement in -- I mean, the discussion in the Philippines, why is there a need for a new agreement?  Don't we already have a treaty and an agreement with Philippines to do a rotational presence?  We already have special operations troops there, so why -- where do we have -- why is there a need for another new agreement at this point?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  Well, as you know, in 1992, we -- Clark and Subic closed, and we left having -- we stopped having a permanent military presence in the Philippines.  We have great cooperation with the Philippines on a lot of specific things, including the support we give them down south in training for -- training and support for their counterterrorism capabilities.  We have about 500 forces there.

         But what we don't have is an updated agreement for sort of the regular routine rotations of U.S. forces through and use of Filipino facilities for our forces.  So actually, we have very great operational cooperation, but this would give us a routine and steady framework for rotating ships, aircraft, personnel through the Philippines and making sure it's done in a way that is fully in accordance with Filipino law, with their priorities, and also, you know, something that works for us.

         Q:  (off mic)

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  No.

         Q:  (off mic) quick question, follow-up on the counterterrorism.  You mentioned Indonesia, as well as in an area where we do some counterterrorism cooperation.  Is there an increase in the number of CT forces going to Indonesia and to Philippines?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  Actually, quite the opposite.  I think there's been really good counterterrorism cooperation, not just by us, but by a lot of countries throughout Southeast Asia in recent years.  And I think actually what you're seeing is countries in the region are more and more able to handle their CT challenges themselves and to work with each other more effectively.

         And so a lot of this is about being able to work together on common challenges.  So the -- if you actually look at numbers, numbers are going to be going down.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  (off mic) and if I could just add, with Indonesia, again, we're co-chairs of an ASEAN -- an ADMM-Plus exercise -- so it's not just bilateral.

         MR. LITTLE:  Phil?

         Q:  Quick question about the ADMM.  China, what more is there really to talk about with China?  They just met at the Pentagon.  And then there's no bilateral with Russia.  Is it fair to assume that's part of the overall chill?  Or was there just never going to be a meeting with Russia?

        SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, I can just say, with China, there's a lot to talk about.  The discussions at the Pentagon were very, very rich, raised a lot of issues.  So the secretary will be getting back and further -- furthering that discussion, continuing that.  That's a relationship, his and his counterpart, that should happen -- they should engage more than once a year.

         And I think it's representative of the expanded and intensifying mil-mil relations that we're seeing across the board, not just at the head level, but throughout.  So they'll definitely have a lot to talk about.

         I don't think the Russians requested a bilat.  And we didn't -- frankly, I don't -- wouldn't interpret that as part of the chill.  It's just we have much less to talk about in this context.

         MR. LITTLE:  Yeah, Minister Shoygu is not attending, either, the Russian minister of defense.

         Q:  Just on the Philippines again, there was a time when this would have been something they would not be interested in.  Could you tell us what's changed in the Philippines' calculus, why they want to -- why they're more open to something like this?

         And also, just a housekeeping thing.  Can you just go over what the U.S. has provided them in terms of their maritime security capabilities?  There's the Coast Guard ship and the P-3 aircraft.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  I mean, you know, I think over the last -- really, over the last 20 years, you've seen us go from a fairly low point with the Philippines and then back through a process of -- you know, where we've given them -- where we've partnered very effectively for several years now on their CT efforts, and they have also become more and more aware of a need to sort of arrest -- you know, to need to sort of invest in their own military capabilities and in a way that can probably for them really be effectively done by partnering with us.

         So I think one of the things that is -- that leads them to want to have this kind of engagement is to sort of, you know, refresh the fact that we are treaty allies, we can do a lot together, and we have a lot of common interests in the region that will be supported by more active cooperation.  And I really do think that helping them -- you know, helping them with their fight in the south has helped build that trust over time, too, and get us back to a place where we are both mutually interested in this sort of thing.

         Maritime domain -- maritime security and maritime domain awareness capacity are both areas in which we would like to help them and, frankly, all the countries of the region, you know, build in capabilities.  The Philippines just recently received a second Coast Guard cutter from the United States, I think just about a month ago, maybe, maybe even a little less, and the second of -- of two.  And then we've helped them with things like radars and some other -- sort of coastal maritime domain awareness capabilities.

         And we often will do ride-along-type programs and other things with our -- some of our P-3 aircraft in the region and, you know, looking to partner with them and -- in their own efforts to come up -- you know, sort of modernize their forces.

         Q:  Do they have (off mic) do they have something specific that's kind of on their shopping list, in terms of radar or aerial reconnaissance or that kind of thing, going beyond what they're getting now?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  I mean, I don't know -- I don't know their shopping list.  They're in the market for lots of capabilities, and they will source them from a variety of sources and, you know, a variety of countries.  We're just looking at being one of their effective partners and helping them, you know, build their overall -- they sort of have a military modernization plan that they're looking at over several years.

         Q:  Of the Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, what is the current state of play with their relations with China?  And how is that -- we've seen tensions rise and fall between those countries and China.  And so what is that -- how is -- how is that playing into our relations with them and their relations with each other right now?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Yeah, I wouldn't comment in any detail about their relationship.  China is an important country for every country in this region.  Obviously, it's a country that -- I mean, if you take the ASEAN countries collectively, they do more trade with each other than anyone else.  About half of that total they trade with China.  So that's the second one.

         China is, for many countries, a leading trading partner and is very, very relevant to their lives.  Whenever you have a close relationship with a big country like that, whether it's the U.S., China, it's going to go through ups and downs and swings.  In some cases, there are contested claims in the South China Sea.  A number of ASEAN countries have those.  And a number of ASEAN countries also have disputes, including territorial disputes, with one another.  And, again, the focus of what we're doing is finding peaceful ways to resolve these disputes, whether it's within ASEAN, nations within ASEAN, or with China or any other countries.

         So, you know, when we talk to these countries, it's about pursuing our bilateral interests and, again, promoting this collective security architecture, multilateral framework.  It's not anti -- we don't focus on China.  We'll talk about a range of issues in the region, security issues.  North Korea will feature prominently in discussions with many of these countries.

         But, really, it's a focus in on the things we want to do together.  In no cases do we ask countries to choose us over China.  We don't think that's -- we don't -- frankly, don't think that's a prudent choice or a pragmatic approach in today's interdependent world.

         Q:  Earlier, you said that there's been significant progress moving from bilateral relations to more multilateral.  And we've heard -- you know, we've heard that for years, you know, the U.S. would love to have more of that in this region and get beyond the old hub and spoke, but it sure still looks like hub and spoke.  So tell me a little more where -- or examples of why you think there's been a change.  And what does the U.S. want to see ultimately?  How -- how far does this have to go per the bigger strategy, the rebalance and the pivot and having, really, a network of militaries that's far more capable and able to share the burden out there in this region?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, I'll say, in any part of the world, you want the countries together in that region to be able to work together to solve common problems, to create an environment of trust and understanding among one another and with outside powers in the region.

         Again, what we said, ASEAN is pretty unique, in that despite territorial disputes, despite a history of conflict among the countries constituting ASEAN, despite a pattern of outside colonization and intervention, they've formed this bond together, and it's managed to take their disputes, lower the temperature, create conditions where outsiders are not intervening, which is significant in any part of the world, particularly a developing part of the world, and basically agree to focus on economic prosperity and deal with their security problems in a peaceful manner.

         I mean, this is really an ideal.  ASEAN had been criticized for many years, because it didn't accomplish big things.  But I think it's the dog that didn't bark.  It's the lack of warfare in the region, despite territorial and other disputes.  It's the work, the slow and steady work toward peaceful resolution of these disputes.  And it's the respect that they've earned from outsiders who respect -- as the U.S. does -- respects ASEAN's centrality and does not try to deal with these countries and resolve issues only on a bilateral basis, but respects what they're trying to achieve.

         And we think this is very consistent with our long-term interests, and that's why we want to continue Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, and now Secretary Hagel, a strong support for this ASEAN Defense Ministers' Forum and engagement, and we'll continue to support that going forward.

         Q:  Can you give any concrete examples of resources that are -- have been moved into the region, say, in the last year or that will be moved into the region over the next year?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, I mean, the resources that are coming here every single day, you've got naval ships that are coming in here.  You have exercises that are taking place.  You have resources that are manifest bilaterally in terms of security cooperation.  In many cases, you have increased dollar amounts of security cooperation.  You have an increased array of things we are doing, different kinds of training, exercises, cooperation, assistance.  And you have this remarkably increased commitment to the ASEAN defense minister sort of collective exercises and workshops.

         So, you know, any given country in this region, you will see, you know, teams of Americans -- not just from the Defense Department, but from other agencies, as well -- that really would -- you would not have seen before the Obama administration.

         Q:  (off mic) I understand that there's a difference in emphasis, but I think Secretary Panetta also indicated that there was going to be, you know, a difference in resources and it was going to go from a 50/50 to a 60/40 split.  And is there any evidence of that happening yet?  Or is that just going to take more time?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  I think that is going to happen, both air and naval assets.  It'll be basically 60/40, and that shift is happening over -- over time, but, I mean, I think we're a good part of the way there.

         It's just -- it's important, I think, to bear in mind, though, that this isn't really -- the rebalance to Asia is very much not about, you know, U.S. platforms and U.S. things.  It's much more about what we're doing than it is about stuff.

         So I think the -- I think it's -- it is really working to develop partnerships that deal effectively with challenges, both bilateral and multilateral partnerships.  It is -- it is, you know, a vision of the Asia Pacific which all the countries are working together to effectively deal with the things that would challenge this great trajectory that Asia has been on and this trajectory that we see is very important to U.S. prosperity and U.S. national security, which is why we want to be in there and invested.

         Q:  What's the current U.S. standing in Malaysia and Indonesia, in terms of stuff?  What do we -- what do we have there?  And has it grown in the past two years?  Have you asked for bases?  Have you asked for expanded U.S. military presence?  And why not?  If you're going back to the Philippines and looking for a more permanent rotation, is not geographically Malaysia and Indonesia as interesting to the U.S.?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Let me just say one thing and then turn it over to -- [Senior Defense Official Two]-- we're not working with any country in the region to try to re-form or establish new bases.  That's kind of a thing of the Cold War.  We do have some bases, Korea and Japan, that are -- well, they're ongoing and we continue to prioritize them.

         But what we're doing, as -- [Senior Defense Official Two]-- indicated with the Philippines, we're looking at -- and same with Australia, same with Singapore, rotational presence.  So it's not a U.S. base.  We're working with them.  We have legal and political understandings for our forces to be able to operate in and around there, but it's their sovereign territory that we're engaging in, so it's a rotational presence.

         So that's just a little technical detail.  But, again, it reflects two things, supply and demand.  It reflects the increased -- heightened sensitivity of all the countries in the region to their own sovereignty.  They don't want to return to the Cold War environment where we had bases and McDonald's and et cetera on their territory.  They treasure their sovereignty, politically in support.

         You also have a trend of increasing democratic, you know, representative governments throughout the region, and the people are saying the same thing.  So we respect that.  But also, for our security interests -- and as we look at our defense strategy -- we don't feel we need to be tied down to any particular base.  A rotational presence is what supports our strategy and enables us to operate here as needed, to be relevant, to be present, to be meaningful.

         So, you know, it -- that fits.  And I'll let -- [Senior Defense Official Two]-- and I'll just say, Philippines is a treaty ally, so we do have a framework that we're, you know, rekindling or updating that framework for current realities.  I'll let -- [Senior Defense Official Two]-- speak to Indonesia and Malaysia.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  You know, what we've been working on with Indonesia and Malaysia is to do more things, and that has included doing more things in more places, so more exercises, more ship visits have happened in different ports and things like that, and if you -- if you think about, again -- and just to echo -- [Senior Defense Official One]-- we don't want -- we really don't want new bases.  That's not -- that's -- that's kind of an old -- it is an old frame for how you're doing things.

         It's the -- these routine engagements and the access, those serve to form -- you know, to build familiarity and form habits of cooperation that manifest themselves in really important ways when, for example, there's a typhoon or there's a ship headed from Point A to Point B and that you think might have, you know, contraband or illegal arms or be a proliferation target, and your ability to work with your friends and partners across the region and say, hey, could you go check that out?  Would you -- you know, that -- those relationships turn into effective, collaborative action.

         And so given that most of the challenges out there are common challenges for everyone, us, the Asian countries, everybody, building that kind of cooperation is really what we're focused on.  So we are looking to do more with that, but not in terms of, you know, sort of having facilities.

         Q:  You've talked a lot about building capacities.  I'm wondering if -- of a lot of the countries in the region, does that mean that you are asking or the secretary is asking these countries to step up their defense spending as a result of -- I mean, that's how you build their capacity.  Is that something that you're seeing happening that eventually when this is done, the overall defense spending in the region by all these countries will actually grow?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  No, we're -- I mean, we're -- the secretary of defense is not asking these countries to step up defense spending.  What you see, though, is that this trend over the last several decades, each of the countries in the region has grown more prosperous, and each of the countries in the region has grown more aware of threats to their own security and, frankly, economic prosperity.

         There's increased pressure over fishing, so resources, natural resources, and they want to have an increased awareness of their maritime domain to protect their interests, which in some cases are becoming more scarce.  And so I think you do see a trend.

         I'll take Philippines.  Philippines, like a lot of countries in the region in recent decades, has focused almost entirely internally on internal issues, social and political issues, in many cases, dealing with some cases, you know, terrorism or disaffected parts of the population.

         What you're seeing now -- and, again, I think it's associated with this growing prosperity -- is an increased attention now on strong -- on security realm, externally oriented.  So Philippines -- and to be honest, they -- you know, their armed forces had atrophied significantly in the past two decades.  And under President Aquino, he's now trying to revitalize the armed forces so they're capable of protecting the security interests of the country.  I think that trend is pretty commonplace throughout the region.

         MR. LITTLE:  Dan?

         Q:  Sorry, just -- if you could give us a snapshot of the South China Sea disputes now, as compared to maybe two years ago or three years ago, like, the trajectory, is there any -- any new developments in how these countries are dealing with that issue?  Or is it -- are we basically where we have been for some time, it's still kind of the fundamental, you know, situation?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  So, you know, as -- you know, as you know, we view with concern tensions in the maritime domain, be that South China Sea, the East China Sea, primarily because you don't want lingering disagreements to turn into confrontations at sea that might -- where you may -- you may have an incident that may turn into some sort of a conflict, right?

         So I think these -- the underlying disputes will take time to solve.  And so the challenge the region faces is, how do they ensure they don't, you know, spark some kind of conflict while they're finding various ways to deal with these disputes over time?

         In the last few years, we've seen both flare-ups and increased tensions in certain areas, and those have been managed in ways that have, you know, not taken us over any kind of a precipice, but they've made everybody concerned, and you've seen the region react with suggestions of working on a code of conduct for the -- for the South China Sea.

         And you see some progress on that.  There's been a little bit of movement towards more concrete discussions between China and the ASEAN countries on a code of conduct.  And, you know, our focus is really going to remain encouraging everyone to, you know, exercise a great deal of restraint and an abundance of caution and to focus on, how do we manage disputes peacefully?  How do we try to move towards resolution through any internationally accepted mechanisms, be that bilateral negotiations or multilateral negotiations or international arbitration?  And how do we make sure our, you know, militaries are really practicing good behavior, so that you don't find yourself stumbling into a dangerous situation or having a dangerous situation sort of flip out of control?

         So fundamentally, no country in the region wants any of these things to spark a conflict.  So we see some progress, and we want to encourage -- we're going to, you know, continue encouraging restraint and a focus on finding diplomatic solutions to any of these challenges.

         MR. LITTLE:  Thanks, everyone.  Let me just wrap up with some quick facts and figures on the history and structure of ASEAN.  The ADMM-Plus, this 18-country forum, first met in 2010 in Vietnam.  Former Secretary Gates attended the inaugural ADMM-Plus ministerial.  The ADMM-Plus is based on the 10-country ADMM, and the ADMM, as -- [Senior Defense Official One]-- said, has been meeting twice per year since 2006.

         In 2011, Indonesia decided to invite China and the United States to informal session on the margin of the ADMM spring and fall meetings.  These ASEAN Plus One dialogues have not been formalized, but this will be the third year they've taken place.  Cambodia invited the U.S. and China in 2012.  Brunei did the same thing this year.  And Myanmar will do the same thing in 2014.  And we hope to continue our engagement as that relationship grows and evolves.

         The ADMM-Plus, going to the depths of action that -- [Senior Defense Official One]-- noted at the top, has five expert working groups.  And I'll just briefly list those.  And these include the plus eight countries.  So there are -- there's a working group on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, chaired by Vietnam and China.  All of the chairs will switch over next year.  Counterterrorism, currently chaired by Indonesia and the United States.  The third is military medicine chaired by Singapore and Japan.  The fourth is maritime security chaired by Malaysia and Australia.  And finally, peacekeeping operations chaired by the Philippines and New Zealand.

         All right.  That's a wrap.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO:  (off mic) four of those -- four of those (off mic) exercises -- four of those working groups had exercises for -- have exercises for 2013, HA/DR and military medicine, the CT one I referred to that we're going to do in a few weeks, and then Australia and Malaysia, as co-chairs, we'll do a maritime security exercise off of Australia later in the year.

         Q:  So the secretary's giving a speech at ASEAN, and that's the only speech (off mic)

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Speech in Kuala Lumpur.

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Kuala Lumpur, not in Brunei.

         Q:  Not -- not in Brunei.

         MR. LITTLE:  Not (off mic)

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  And -- and also to clarify, I think we went over it quickly, the secretary has two kinds of engagements in Brunei.  One is this tradition of an annual informal meeting with the ASEAN defense ministers, and then the next day is this grouping of the ADMM-Plus.  So they're two -- two slightly different things.

         MR. LITTLE:  Okay.  It was almost a wrap.

         Q:  Very, very quickly.  When would -- when would Burma, or Myanmar, invite -- invite the U.S. or not to next year's event?

         SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE:  Probably next year when they're chair.  But, again, the -- the -- what's been occurring as a tradition -- if not written in stone, but a tradition -- is that the ASEAN defense ministers at one of their two meetings that take place each year will invite the U.S. to participate informally.  And so that's where -- some of you were on the trip when Secretary Panetta came here last year, and then the same thing the previous year.

         The -- and initially, the ADMM-Plus met every three years.  This is the second one.  So this is now moving to every other year, so we've -- again, the fact that these exercises are taking place -- yeah, you guys are going to be doing this leg a lot, this flight a lot -- the fact that this exercise has taken place with a relatively new organization, I think, is testimony to the action-oriented nature of this organization.

         MR. LITTLE:  All right.  Thanks, everyone -- [Senior Defense Official One]-- thank you very much.  Appreciate it.

Additional Links

Stay Connected