General [William] Stevenson, thank you for your generous welcome and very kind introduction.
I'm honored to be here this afternoon at the Malaysian Ministry of Defense and very much appreciate the warm hospitality of my friend, the defense minister for Malaysia, Minister Hishammuddin, who I have gotten to know over the last few months very well. And I very much appreciated the time that we had together this morning, as well as the time that I had with Prime Minister Najib.
Let me also acknowledge the guests that have come here for this event, including representatives from the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce. And I'm particularly proud that Anne Marie Brooks, who was with me in the United States Senate for a few years, who has recently become a senior member of the Malaysian American Chamber of Commerce, and continues to work in her capacity to help build a stronger relationship between our two countries in so many ways. I'm very proud of her and the work that she is doing for both of our countries.
Having the opportunity to visit Kuala Lumpur just a few days before your celebration of independence, I'd like to particularly wish the people of Malaysia a happy Merdeka Day. And as you all know, next month marks 50 years since the formation of modern Malaysia.
At that time, President John F. Kennedy observed that both the United States and Malaysia are “unions composed of a number of states, stretching over great distances, drawn together in the interests of freedom and the well-being of our people.”
These enduring realities underpin what President Kennedy called a special bond between the people of Malaysia and the people of the United States.
Over the last half-century, this special bond has flourished into a robust diplomatic, economic and security relationship. We're both multiethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-faith nations, where our peoples live together in harmony, despite their differences. Both our lands are blessed with abundant bounty and many natural resources that we have worked very hard to develop. And we are both trading nations, seeking to improve the lives of our people through the promotion of international commerce.
The United States and Malaysia are now significant regional and global partners, and our two countries share a diverse and expanding relationship in trade, investment, education and culture. Our two militaries are also cooperating more than ever before in areas such as maritime security, counterterrorism, nonproliferation, and responding to humanitarian crises and natural disasters. In the future, it's clear that Malaysia will be playing an even more critical role in helping sustain Asia's security and prosperity.
The strong and thriving relationship of our two nations enjoy [is] a very special bond and a testament to the progress Malaysia and Southeast Asia have made over the last five decades.
Consider that in the years following Malaysia's formation in 1963, Southeast Asia was a region plagued by conflict and poverty. There was the Emergency and then the konfrontasi between Malaysia and Indonesia, and diplomatic ties between Malaysia and the Philippines were suspended because of territorial disputes.
On the mainland, the conflict between North and South Vietnam was escalating, with growing direct involvement by the United States. Millions of American troops -- including my brother, Tom, and me – would be deployed to fight in that long and bloody war. The repercussions were felt for many years afterwards, not only by the Vietnamese, Americans, and others who fought in the war, but also by nations throughout the region.
That period of turmoil and conflict has since given way to a new era, an era defined by growing stability, cooperation and prosperity for the region:
Southeast Asia's fast-growing economics and 600 million six hundred million people now produce more than $2 trillion in goods and services every year, and the region has the world's busiest trade routes and some of the busiest ports.
The region is also home to emerging democracies, with Myanmar's ongoing transition the latest example of how governments across the region are becoming more responsive to the democratic wishes of their people.
And Southeast Asia is playing a leading role in helping solve many regional challenges, with the 10 ASEAN nations strengthening key institutions that are helping foster cooperation among countries, and also maintaining stability, and resolving disputes peacefully.
The rise of the Asia Pacific is a tribute to the resilience, the energy, the entrepreneurial spirit of its people. The United States admires what you have achieved, and we are very proud and committed to continue our engagement in this region.
Since World War II, the U.S. has helped build a system of free and open commerce that has assisted in bringing stability to this part of the world. As we look to the future, it is clear that the Asia Pacific region will also help shape the trajectory of global security and prosperity. And because America recognizes that its future will be even more connected to this part of the world, we are rebalancing the weight of our global diplomatic, economic and security engagement toward the Asia Pacific.
Two months ago, in my remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, I noted the logic and the principles of this broader strategy.
Today, I want to share my perspective on how the United States is reinvigorating and reshaping its engagement with Southeast Asia. President Obama has made clear that the United States must not only rebalance toward Asia Pacific, it must also rebalance within the Asia Pacific to reflect Southeast Asia's emerging prominence and importance.
As I said in Singapore, the rebalance should not be misinterpreted. The United States has alliances, interests and responsibilities across the globe. Within the Asia Pacific, our historic alliances in Northeast Asia with Japan and the Republic of Korea will remain cornerstones of regional and global security, particularly as we stand firm in the face of North Korea's dangerous and destabilizing activities and provocations. But as political, economic and security trends across Southeast Asia evolve, the Obama administration is responding to the strong interests from leaders and publics for increased U.S. security cooperation, economic engagement, and support of ASEAN efforts to adhere to rules and norms in support of regional security and prosperity.
This rebalance consists of new diplomatic initiatives.
Since President Obama took office in 2009, the United States has made major advances in the relationships in Southeast Asia and recognized the centrality of ASEAN, joining the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, holding annual ASEAN-U.S. leaders' meetings, joining the East Asia Summit, appointing a resident ambassador to ASEAN, and standing up a permanent mission to ASEAN, making the United States the first non-ASEAN country to do so. I will be attending the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Plus Conference in Brunei later this week.
A related diplomatic initiative is our carefully calibrated engagement with Myanmar, as it pursues political and economic reforms. President Obama has expressed our support for Burma's turn toward democracy, through his historic visit to the country last year and his hosting of President Thein Sein in the Oval Office earlier this year. This week, I will have the opportunity to meet for the first time with my Burmese counterpart at the ASEAN Defense Minister Plus Meeting.
My upcoming visit to the ADMM-Plus, and my travel to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines this week, is an example of how the United States is engaging in defense diplomacy – defense diplomacy in this region. My predecessor, Secretary Gates, attended the inaugural ADMM-Plus in Hanoi in 2010, and we began holding annual ASEAN-U.S. Defense Ministers' informal dialogues in 2011. I've invited ASEAN defense ministers to Hawaii next year for the first-ever U.S.-hosted meeting of this important group of partners.
Other senior officials across the United States Government are also making travel to Southeast Asia a top priority.
Earlier this summer, Secretary of State Kerry traveled to Brunei. Secretary Kerry was in Brunei to meet with his ASEAN counterparts. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sebelius visited Thailand and Vietnam. And Vice President Biden traveled to India and Singapore recently. The United States trade representative, Mike Froman, was just in Brunei for talks with other ASEAN economic officials. And this fall, President Obama intends to make his sixth trip to Asia and visit Southeast Asia for the fifth time. In addition to the APEC summit and ASEAN leaders' summit, his itinerary includes the Global Entrepreneurship Summit here in Kuala Lumpur, where he will be accompanied by our new secretary of commerce, Penny Pritzker, as well as American corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, educators and investors.
The Obama administration has made engagement in this region a priority, a priority because we believe more robust ties with ASEAN countries are very important to America's economic growth. Last November, President Obama and the 10 ASEAN leaders launched the expanded economic engagement initiative, which is helping boost trade and investment and create new business opportunities and jobs in all 11 countries.
A related effort is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a high-standard trade agreement. This agreement will eliminate market access barriers to goods and services and establish a stronger rules-based economic framework for Asia Pacific nations. The United States welcomes Malaysia's decision to join these negotiations, which partnership nations are trying to complete by the APEC Summit in October.
The United States also strongly supports ASEAN's own economic integration goals, its vision of increased political cohesion, and security cooperation, including the launch of the ASEAN community in 2015, during Malaysia's chairmanship. This summer in Brunei, Secretary Kerry pledged that the United States will continue to invest significantly in technical assistance to support this effort. We are strongly supportive of ASEAN's success.
These diplomatic and economic initiatives are designed to bring greater prosperity to all of our nations by building trade and investment, increasing our cultural and societal ties, educating our people, and fostering innovation to provide better health care, more renewable energy, and a sustainable environment.
But success in every one of these areas is underpinned by peace and security. The security of our nations help to ensure that people enjoy sustained prosperity. The U.S. and regional defense and security cooperation supports the diplomatic, economic and cultural goals that we all share and we all work toward.
Security is a critical foundation of prosperity. Trade cannot flourish in waters that are contested by force; societies cannot thrive under the threat of terrorism; and commerce cannot be sustained in areas devastated by natural disasters.
The security and prosperity of Southeast Asia – like all regions of the world – will depend on how we confront persistent and emerging threats, including terrorism; weapons proliferation; the illicit trafficking of people, drugs, protected wildlife, and dangerous materials; the growing threat of disruptions in space and cyberspace; natural disasters and environmental degradation; competing maritime claims; the curse of poverty and disease; and ethnic strife.
Our Southeast Asian partners recognize that these complex threats and challenges cannot be resolved by any single country. They require bilateral and multilateral political will and capability to confront them.
A key component of U.S. security strategy is to help nations and institutions across Southeast Asia improve their capabilities to address these threats. One of the most important ways in which we do this is through joint military exercises and engagements. These build trust, let us exchange best practices, and better prepare our militaries to work together in response to crises.
As part of the rebalance, we are making these exercises more robust and inclusive. Last month's successful Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise with Malaysia incorporated the USS Freedom, a new Littoral Combat Ship now deployed in Singapore. This exercise built on last year's first-ever visit to Sabah by a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis.
We're including more nations across the region in these exercises, as we have done with Cobra Gold. What began as a bilateral military exercise between the United States and our treaty ally Thailand in 1980 has since evolved into a large multilateral exercise involving more than 13,000 personnel from the United States, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea, all training together in areas such as jungle warfare, counter-proliferation, and combined arms.
Another example is RIMPAC, the U.S. Navy's largest multilateral exercise, which features 46 navy vessels, 200 aircraft, and over 25,000 personnel. India joined this exercise in 2012, and in 2014, Brunei and China will participate for the first time.
Over the past year, the United States has placed a priority on sustaining these exercises and engagements during a period of unprecedented budget turmoil at home. Despite these fiscal challenges, we will continue to strengthen these exercises and engagements, particularly as the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan allow us to shift focus and capacity from these wars to our presence in the Asia Pacific.
The U.S. is helping its partners improve their capabilities by providing new defense technology and equipment. Our most recent budget includes $90 million for Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs in Southeast Asia, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to four years ago.
We're also increasing commercial defense trade and ultimately envision moving towards co-production and co-development of new platforms with our closest partners in the region. This will allow us to share American technology and expertise which will further deepen our security partnerships. We are currently working with Japan and Singapore on these kinds of initiatives, and we are looking to expand this important engagement with other countries in the region.
In addition to helping improve the capabilities of our Southeast Asian partners, we're encouraging them to cooperate more effectively with each other and other nations in the region, including our close allies Australia, Japan, and South Korea, as well as emerging powers, like China and India.
This multilateral cooperation is essential to meeting transnational security challenges. For example, counter-piracy efforts in the Strait of Malacca, those were largely ineffective, until Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore began cooperating routinely to share information and coordinate patrols. Now this threat has been virtually eradicated.
To further this kind of cooperation, we are making new investments in the Asia-Pacific region's growing security architecture, particularly the ASEAN-led institutions like the ADMM-Plus, which is now Asia's primary multilateral defense ministerial. Enhancing U.S. contributions to regional institutions is a key pillar of our strategy in the region.
Over the past three years, the ADMM-Plus has demonstrated remarkable progress. This year, the ADMM-Plus is hosting its first-ever multinational field exercises in three areas – humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and military medicine; counterterrorism; and maritime security. The just-concluded humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises hosted by Brunei – involving 18 nations and more than 3,000 troops – were very successful and were an example of the promise of the ADMM-Plus to facilitate these increasingly complex and real-world exercises.
While this cooperation is encouraging, we cannot lose focus on what still remains to be accomplished. For regional security institutions like the ADMM-Plus to successfully achieve tangible solutions to shared problems and build a common framework for overcoming differences, much more hard work will be required, including at this week's meetings in Brunei.
Two particular areas I want to focus on in our discussions this week in Brunei will be cybersecurity and maritime security, both of which are complex regional issues that stand directly at the intersection of security and prosperity. Disruptions to either domain could put lives at risk and threaten our economies, like a cyber attack inflicted on banking networks and critical infrastructure or a naval confrontation in disputed waters.
ASEAN institutions have an important role to play in reducing risks in these areas. Forums like the ADMM-Plus can be part of the process to establish norms of behavior in cyberspace. The United States is helping nations across the region bolster their cyber defenses to make sure we are protected against cyber threats and to reduce the risks stemming from cyber attacks, but ultimately there is no substitute for effective regional cooperation that establishes strong rules of the road.
On maritime security, the United States is troubled by the increase in tensions and incidents in waters throughout the region, including in the South China Sea. We continue to call on all parties to exercise restraint, in keeping with the 2002 Declaration of Conduct, and to resolve any incidents peacefully, without use of intimidation, coercion or aggression.
We have made clear that we strongly support ASEAN's efforts to start formal negotiations on a binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. As for the underlying claims, we support peaceful means of settling territorial disputes consistent with international law, including the Law of the Sea.
We must not let disagreements in areas like maritime security undermine the tremendous progress this region has made over the recent decade. Instead, we should ensure that ADMM-Plus emerges as a venue where nations put aside animosity in favor of practical cooperation, where leaders discuss their differences candidly and transparently, where our military officers can share best practices, and where young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of many nations can get to know one another through regular joint exercises, side by side.
A strong ADMM-Plus supports our vision for a future of shared peace and prosperity, in a world where nations of the Asia Pacific region – including the United States and the ASEAN community – are bound together by strong economic ties, mutual security interests, and respect for rules, norms, and the institutions that underpin them.
No security architecture in Southeast Asia can succeed without the active involvement and participation of the two large emerging powers that border this region, China and India.
As part of our rebalance, the United States is committed to pursuing a positive and constructive relationship with China. We have very open discussions with China, including a productive visit last week by my counterpart, Defense Minister General Chang, whom I hosted at the Pentagon. He and I agreed that we must increase our cooperation and our mutual understanding, including through more defense exercises and the recently established U.S.-China Cyber Working Group. And we continue to encourage China to work toward greater transparency.
We are clear-eyed about the challenges of the U.S.-China relationship and will continue to work to implement through dialogue and engagement the vision laid out by our two leaders at their June meeting in California. I enthusiastically accepted General Chang's invitation to visit China next year, and I look forward to further progress in this relationship in the months ahead.
The United States is also building on our close partnership with India. I had a very positive meeting with Indian National Security Advisor Menon last week in Washington.
India's role as a stabilizing power in the region is of growing importance with the increase of trade and transit between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The United States considers India's efforts to enhance its military capabilities a welcome contribution to security in the region, and we are working to move our defense trade relationship from that of a buyer-seller to one of co-development and co-production. This will be on the agenda for Prime Minister Singh's upcoming visit to the United States, which was announced last week.
Together, the United States and all the nations of this region are defining a new future, one where we embrace the obligation to conduct ourselves responsibly and identify ways to work together to solve common challenges. In that spirit of cooperation, we can ensure that the peace and prosperity that this region has so far experienced will continue into the future.
I'd like to close my remarks today with a story that reflects the complex but hopeful history of this region and our shared hope for a better future for all of us. It is the story of a young man named H.B. Le, who was born in Vietnam and was only 5 years old when the North Vietnamese army overran Saigon. He and his family fled, like thousands of others, on overcrowded fishing trawlers. One of those trawlers was commanded by his father, who was an officer in the South Vietnamese Navy.
They were rescued by a U.S. Navy ship and resettled just outside Washington, D.C., where H.B. and his many brothers and sisters grew up. It was nearly 35 years before H.B. returned to Vietnam, no longer a child or a refugee, but instead the commander of a United States Navy destroyer on a goodwill port visit to Da Nang.
Commander H.B. Le's story is a testimony to the strength and resilience of the United States, Vietnam, and nations across the region, and I'm very proud that he now serves as one of my military assistants. In fact, he's accompanying me on this trip, and he is here with us today.
Commander Le, stand up. (Applause.)
H.B.'s presence here, and his story, is evidence of people determining their own future, and moving beyond the past, and embracing the promise of a more secure and prosperous future for all people. Whether the future of Commander H.B. Le is the future for all of Asia depends on what we all do today, at this time, at this time in history, as we define our own destinies. Thank you all for being part of that effort and for helping us build a better world for all our people for the 21st century.
Thank you very much. Thank you.