WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2017 —
The United States is a firm supporter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its commitment to regional peace and stability, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a briefing with reporters traveling with him on his fourth trip to Asia during his current post.
Mattis had just taken part in the ASEAN defense ministers meeting in the Philippines and was on his way to attend the Royal Cremation Rites of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Thailand.
“The message I came here with is that we remain unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN centrality and of course the rules-based international system … and emphasizing respect for our shared value of sovereignty,” he said.
The meeting gave the participating nations a chance to address shared concerns, the secretary added. One of those concerns, he said, involves North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK.
Mattis said ASEAN’s Sept. 7 statement about North Korea’s provocations with ballistic missiles and its nuclear weapons program “clearly highlighted … how all the nations look at DPRK's actions as outlaw actions … threatening regional peace.”
The secretary added, “I carried the message that the more we do together today, the greater the chance for enduring peace in the future. That's really what it is all about, to keep DPRK efforts firmly in the diplomatic lane for resolution.”
The ASEAN member nations also addressed the growing threat of terrorism, Mattis said. The meeting’s location in the Philippines, he said, was appropriate with regard to the terrorist threat in the region, since the Philippines went through a difficult time in late May when Marawi fell to terrorists.
The meeting participants also discussed maritime security, the secretary said.
“I think working together in this kind of a context of contributing to a free and open Indo-Pacific region [accelerates] economic development for all nations,” Mattis said.
A Dignified Leader
On the way to Thailand, Mattis said he is honored to lead the U.S. presidential delegation and to pay respects and express condolences on behalf of the American people by attending the cremation rites for his majesty, the late king.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Mattis said, “was born in Massachusetts. His father was a medical student and met with President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower.”
The king was a champion of the Thai people, and he was admired by everyone he came into contact with internationally, Mattis said.
“He was a very dignified leader,” the secretary said, “[and] he was a proponent of the long and friendly Thai-U.S. relationship. A very difficult time, I think, for the Thai people.”
Mattis said he visited Thailand for the first time in 1973.
“Everywhere you went, there were shrines to the royal family in every restaurant, every store. The king was well known for his compassion. Most of the Thai people have known no other king. So we're honored to be going there to do this," the secretary said.
After the ceremony in Thailand, the secretary will conclude his Asia trip with a visit to South Korea to co-chair the 49th Annual Security Consultative Meeting.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)