Carter to Speak at Singapore Conference, Says U.S. Presence in Region is Significant

Making his fifth trip to the Asia-Pacific region since becoming defense secretary in 2015 shows the significance of the U.S. military’s longstanding presence there, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters traveling with him to Singapore today.

Aboard a military aircraft, Carter talked about his two-day trip to the world’s only island city-state, where he will give a keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue June 4 and engage in bilateral talks with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen.

The secretary said the U.S. military’s rebalance in the Asia-Pacific region is the single-most consequential element of America's future, because half of the world's population and half the economic activity exist there.

70-Year U.S. Presence

The U.S. rebalance continues, he said, adding that U.S. military presence shows the United States stands for principle, inclusion and collective approaches to common security issues there, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, relief efforts, maritime security and freedom of the commons.

Additionally, the strength of the U.S. military’s presence in the region has also led to progress with Japan and Korea and Taiwan, Southeast Asia “and, today, China and India,” he said.

“We have … strong elements of cooperation with China, even as we have some elements of competition,” Carter said, noting that China has cooperated with the United States for several years in regard to North Korea’s ballistic missile launches.

The secretary said North Korea’s launches are provocative, destabilizing and contrary to United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“Everybody else in the region, and for that matter, most of the world, continues to be concerned about North Korea’s missile activity,” despite several recent launch failures, he said.

Maritime Land Claims At Issue

A lot has transpired in the past year in the Asia-Pacific region, Carter added, such as nations making maritime land claims -- some of which are excessive, he noted.

“The United States doesn't take a position in the claim itself, but we do stand for principle and for international law in this regard,” the secretary said.

“Actions like this by any kind of party are provocative and destabilizing [but] … They won't affect our operations,” he said.

ISIL Concerning Among Nations

Carter said he expects the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to be a point of discussion in Singapore, because numerous countries in Southeast Asia are concerned with the possibility of “metastasis” of the terrorist organization to their region.

The United States is committed to cooperating with Asia-Pacific nations on ISIL concerns and sharing counter-ISIL ideas, he said.

“The main thing I can share with them is the situation and the results that are occurring on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria,” Carter said. “They're very interested in that, because that's where ISIL arose, and it is necessary to stamp it out there and defeat it, which we're going to do.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)