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Austin Heads to Indo-Pacific to Consult With Allies, Partners

The Indo-Pacific region is the Defense Department's priority theater, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s trip to Indonesia and Cambodia demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the region, said senior DOD officials.

A plane bearing the words United States of America sits on a tarmac as people mill about.
Austin Arrival
An honor guard welcomes Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to Jakarta, Indonesia, for meetings with defense officials, Nov. 20, 2022.
Photo By: Jim Garamone, DOD
VIRIN: 221120-D-FN714-001A

Austin will discuss the bilateral military relationship between the two nations with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. This is the secretary's fifth visit to the Indo-Pacific region and his third to Southeast Asia since taking office.  

The secretary spoke about his travels to the region during a speech at the Halifax International Security Forum earlier in the day. He traveled to the region because the Indo-Pacific "is the key to an open, secure and prosperous world," he said. "And the U.S. Defense Department's pacing challenge is an increasingly assertive China that is trying to refashion both the region and the international system to suit its authoritarian preferences."

A man dressed in a business suit stands behind a dias.
Halifax Forum
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks at the 2022 Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Nov. 19, 2022. The forum aims to build a more resilient security architecture in concert with allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific and Europe.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 221119-D-TT977-0319A

Since the end of World War II, a rules-based international order that has kept the peace in the Indo-Pacific.  

"Indonesia plays a critical role in supporting the rules-based order, not just in Southeast Asia, but in the Indo-Pacific region and globally," said a senior defense official.  

Indonesia was the host of the recent G-20 meeting, and next year Indonesia will also be the chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "Indonesia has really been stepping up to play a leading role in bringing countries in the region together," the official said. "We want to talk with [Indonesians] about how we can continue to work together to uphold a lot of the rules that we think are important in the region." 

Among the topics that will be explored is defense modernization and interoperability. 

The two leaders will discuss some of the results of Exercise Garuda Shield, which was held in Indonesia in April. Garuda Shield included 4,000 service members from 12 countries. "I think this really shows … how this relationship has grown and that it is not just about what we do together bilaterally, but, increasingly, how the U.S. and Indonesia are working in a network of allies and partners in the region," the official said. 

A soldier runs toward red smoke carrying a thin torpedo.
Smoky Training
A soldier runs through red smoke with a Bangalore torpedo during Exercise Garuda Shield at Baturaja Training Area, Indonesia, Aug. 12, 2021. Garuda Shield brings together the U.S. and Indonesian armies to train on jungle warfare.
Photo By: Army Spc. Rachel Christensen
VIRIN: 210812-A-LU759-0010

Austin will next travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he will attend ASEAN's Defense Ministerial Meeting Plus. This is the first in-person meeting of the group since 2019. "It's the only forum we have for Indo-Pacific defense ministers to come together in a ministerial setting like this in Asia, so it's an important opportunity for like-minded partners — and some who aren't like-minded — who want to sit together … and put everything on the table," the official said.  

Officials expect to discuss maritime security cooperation and maritime domain awareness.  

The defense ministers will also discuss events in Europe where Russia's invasion of Ukraine has created ripples that are felt in the Indo-Pacific.  

"Beijing, like Moscow, seeks a world where might makes right, where disputes are resolved by force, and where autocrats can stamp out the flame of freedom," Austin said in Halifax. 

President Joe Biden said after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali last week that "there need not be a new Cold War" between China and the United States. 

Marines carry a small inflatable boat on the beach.
Super Garuda Shield
Marines participate in an amphibious raid on Singkep Island, Indonesia, Aug. 3, 2022, as part of Super Garuda Shield, a joint exercise between U.S. and Indonesian troops.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew King
VIRIN: 220803-M-WM087-1324C

Still, DOD must remain clear-eyed about the threat of China, the secretary said. 

 "[China's] military activities in the Taiwan Strait are growing increasingly provocative, with [China’s People’s Liberation Army] aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers on a near-daily basis. We’ve also seen a sharp increase in the number of dangerous PLA intercepts of U.S. and allied forces … that are operating lawfully in international airspace over the South and East China Seas."  

Working with allies and partners in the region is the best way to defend the rules-based architecture and deter aggression. "We're drawing on the lessons from Ukraine to further bolster the self-defense capabilities of our Indo-Pacific  partners," Austin said. "We're helping them to become more agile and resilient. And we're working toward an open, secure future that advances our shared interests and shared values."


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