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Gates Emphasizes Value of Expanded Regional Dialogue

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

HANOI, Vietnam, Oct. 12, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today praised the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for inviting eight defense ministers from outside its 10-nation membership to join their ASEAN counterparts here to discuss regional security issues together for the first time.

In his remarks at the conference, Gates thanked the organization for providing a “broader Asian forum to allow regional defense officials to discuss issues of common interest.”

“As I have said before, the United States is a Pacific nation and a resident power in Asia,” he said. “We have been for many years and will continue to be in the future. Because both our history and our future are intertwined with yours, we believe it is essential to be able to work on common security challenges together.”

The secretary noted that nations in the region have made considerable progress in overcoming past animosities and establishing new partnerships, and he urged his counterparts to work toward taking those relationships a step further.

“What is now essential is that these bilateral relationships be supplemented by strong multilateral institutions,” he said. “These institutions enable us to build regular habits of cooperation to address shared interests, while allowing for candid discussions about those areas where we may disagree.”

Regular dialogue and cooperation among nations are the building blocks for the trust and confidence necessary for enhancing security, Gates said.

“To do so, we must establish both shared ‘rules of the road’ and pursue greater transparency – meaning that as we improve our military capabilities, we must discuss these developments together,” he added. “This provides assurance that our capabilities are not directed against others in the region and that they will be used for common ends.”

The first step, Gates said, is reaffirming commitment to four principles:

-- Free and open commerce;

-- A just international order that emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law;

-- Open access by all to the global commons of sea, air, space and cyberspace;

-- The principle of resolving conflict without using force.

“Agreement on these fundamental principles is important now more than ever,” Gates said. “Asia faces a wide and growing range of challenges in the 21st century.”

Among those challenges, the secretary said, are extremist violence, climate change and pandemic disease, competition over scarce resources, unsolved border disputes, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and continuing provocations by North Korea. The cooperation of all nations present at today’s forum is essential to these issues being addressed successfully, he added.

ASEAN member nations are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In addition to Gates, defense ministers from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Russia are here for the meeting.

Vietnamese Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh invited Gates to the ASEAN meeting in June while both were attending the annual “Shangri-La Dialogue” regional security conference in Singapore. Yesterday, Gates told reporters who traveled here with him that he saw the value of the forum immediately.

“I was the first of the eight [nonmember] ministers to accept coming to this meeting,” he said. “I said yes as soon as General Thanh asked me.” The secretary said all of the nations represented at the meeting have common concerns and common interests, and the forum provides them with an opportunity to discuss how to pull together to meet the challenges they face.

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Robert M. Gates

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