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Esper Discusses Importance of Indo-Pacific Strategy

July 21, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone

The United States is following the tenets of the National Defense Strategy and prioritizing resources to the Indo-Pacific theater, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said during a virtual speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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During today's presentation, Esper said the U.S. military is emphasizing the three pillars of the Indo-Pacific strategy: preparedness, strengthening partnerships and promoting a more networked region.

He also said the Trump administration "looks forward to working with the United States Congress to establish a Pacific Deterrence Initiative that will prioritize our investments, maintain a credible deterrent and demonstrate an enduring whole of government commitment to the region."

China is seeking to overturn the current values-based international order that has provided peace for more than 70 years, Esper said, noting that the system is based on shared values and long-established economic ties with allies and partners in the region.

Ships sail in formation.
In Formation
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and Indian navy ships Rana, Sahyadri, Shivalik and Kamorta sail in formation during a cooperative deployment in the Indian Ocean, July 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Donald R. White Jr.
VIRIN: 200720-N-MY642-0207C

The devastating worldwide effects of the coronavirus pandemic reinforce the need for a rules-based international order rooted in transparency, openness, honesty and other shared values, the secretary said. "In this era of globalization, the antidote to a viral contagion is communication and collaboration, not disinformation and deception," he added.

While the United States and its allies and partners are working in this time of plague to support one another, the Chinese Communist Party continues to engage in systematic rule-breaking, coercion and other malign activities, Esper said. "Most concerning to me," he added, "the People's Liberation Army continues its aggressive behavior in the East and South China Seas."

China's excessive claims in the area affect all trading nations and neighbors such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, Esper said. 

A sailor wearing a mask sits at a console in a blue-lit room.
Tactical Watch
Navy Lt. Louis Petro stands watch as the tactical action officer in the combat information center aboard the USS Germantown in the East China Sea, July 17, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino
VIRIN: 200717-N-CL550-1100Y

"Most recently, Beijing advanced national security legislation that violates its commitment to the Hong Kong people to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, calling the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, a statement of policies rather than the treaty that it is," the secretary said.

China has also conducted large-scale exercises simulating the seizure of Taiwan. The secretary called this a destabilizing activity that significantly increases the risk of miscalculation. 

"Make no mistake, the [Chinese Communist Party] has been engaged in this sort of behavior for many years," Esper said. "But today, its true intentions are on full display for all to see."

The United States and allies and partners in the region call on China to stop its destabilizing actions and abide by the international laws and norms that China arguably benefited most from since World War II.

Black-and-white photo of a man sitting in a chair in a studio.
Speech Preparation
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper readies for a video speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, July 21, 2020. Esper stressed the need for alliances to combat China’s attempts to overturn the rules-based international order.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200721-D-BN624-0001

"While we hope the CCP will change its ways, we must be prepared for the alternative," he said. "Together, we must uphold the free and open system that has secured peace and prosperity for millions and defend the principles that undergird it — namely, respect for sovereignty and independence for all nations, regardless of their size, peaceful resolution of disputes, mutual adherence to international laws and norms, and the promotion of free fair and reciprocal trade."

The military plays a role in this whole-of-government approach in the region. "We're not only prioritizing the development and deployment of game-changing technologies such as hypersonic weapons, 5G and artificial intelligence, but we’re also investing in platforms critical to the Indo-Pacific and transforming the way we fight," the secretary said.

A group of Marines carry a rubber craft into the water.
Craft Compeition
Marines dash into the water carrying a combat rubber raiding craft during a squad competition in Okinawa, Japan, July 7, 2020. The competition tested the Marine’s ability to maneuver the craft and demonstrate safe capsize procedures.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Audrey Rampton
VIRIN: 200707-M-IP473-1546C

The Navy is building a more survivable, adaptable, sustainable and larger fleet. The Marine Corps is focused on becoming leaner, faster, more lethal and precise and more geographically distributed in the Pacific. The Army has prioritized long-range precision weapons to stay ahead of China's growing anti-access, area-denial capabilities, the secretary said. "The Air Force continues its focus on enhanced stealth capabilities and the advancement of joint all domain command and control – a vital initiative that will link any sensor to any shooter in the battlefield in real time," he added. 

To weave all these changes together, the U.S. military is developing a new joint warfighting concept – and ultimately, a doctrine – for the 21st century, Esper said.

America's greatest advantage not only in the Indo-Pacific region, but also worldwide, is its network of allies and partners, the secretary said, promising that the United States will continue to cultivate partners moving forward. 

Aircraft from three nations fly in formation.
Flight Formation
U.S. Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force aircraft fly in formation during Exercise COPE North 20 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 19, 2020. Cope North is an annual U.S. Pacific Air Forces trilateral field training exercise.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Divine Cox
VIRIN: 200219-F-ZP572-1609

"I want to highlight our increased defense cooperation with India, one of the all-important defense relationships of the 21st century," he said. "We conducted our first ever joint military exercise last November," Esper said. "As we speak today, the USS Nimitz is conducting combined exercises with the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean, demonstrating our shared commitment to stronger naval cooperation and supported by free and open Indo-Pacific."

Bilateral relationships are good, but multilateral cooperation is better, Esper said. "We are encouraging indo Pacific nations to expand their own intra-regional security relationships and networks of like-minded partners," he said. 

Japan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and others are working more closely together, the secretary said, calling it a trend that needs to continue.

A soldier holds onto his parachute while descending in the blue sky, as other parachutes descend in the background.
Paratrooper Descent
Army paratroopers descend after jumping from a C-17 aircraft during training at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, June 30, 2020, as part of Spartan Flex, an operation to exercise joint capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region.
Photo By: Army Capt. Mark Scott
VIRIN: 200630-Z-RJ317-1170Y

Esper called China "a country with a storied history, a rich culture and a wonderful people" and said no Indo-Pacific nation wants to see conflict with China.

"We are committed to a constructive and results-oriented relationship with China and within our defense relationship to open lines of communication and risk reduction," he said. "I've personally spoken to my [People's Republic of China] counterpart on multiple occasions. And before the year is out, I hope to visit the PRC for the first time as secretary in order to enhance cooperation on areas of common interest, establish the systems necessary for crisis communications, and reinforce our intentions to openly compete in the international system in which we all belong."