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Remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (As Delivered)

Good morning, everybody. It’s great to be back in Singapore. I was here in July of 2021 to give the IISS Fullerton Lecture, so John, I’m starting to feel like a regular. In all seriousness, thanks for having me back.

I also want to thank John for everything that IISS does to promote dialogue in this region. And I want to thank our national host, Singapore, for providing such a warm welcome for all of us. It’s especially good to see Senior Minister Teo, Minister Ng, and Minister Balakrishnan.

Now, this is my first time to formally address a Shangri-La Dialogue as Secretary of Defense. And I’m glad to have the chance to discuss many of my government’s policies—but I’m also here to listen and to have some honest discussions.

Now, the simple fact that this dialogue is back in person is absolutely encouraging.

When I was here last year, my speech was one of the first public gatherings in Singapore as it was starting to reopen after the terrible early months of the pandemic. So going from one lone keynote to this bustling, in-person dialogue suggests the strides that this region has made.

Now, that’s a great tribute to Prime Minister Lee and our hosts from Singapore.

And Singapore has also helped others around the world recover. It’s worked around the clock to produce lifesaving medical supplies, including test kits, and ventilators, and protective gear.

And the United States is deeply committed to getting the whole world past this pandemic. Since March of 2020, we have provided more than $19 billion worldwide to produce and deliver vaccines and to spur global recovery.

We’re proud to be the world’s single largest donor of vaccines. And we’ve pledged to distribute more than 1.2 billion vaccines doses worldwide before this year is out.

We’ve already distributed more than a half a billion doses. And we won’t let up.

We’re deeply committed to helping this region heal, recover, and rebuild.

Because that’s just what a friend does.

And let’s face it: this pandemic has hit all of us where we live. It upended all of our lives. It left tragedy and disruption in its wake.

But today, we stand together at a moment that carries the promise of renewal. And I hope that we’ll all come out of the pandemic with a broader perspective on what lasting security means in the 21st century.

Now, the last time that I was in Singapore, the theme of my speech was the power of partnership. And so today, I want to talk about what that has meant in action, about how our partnerships have grown even stronger, and about how we’ve moved together toward our shared vision for the region.

The journey that we’ve made together in the past year only underscores a basic truth. In today’s interwoven world, we’re stronger when we find ways to come together.

And as we do so, we know that most countries across the Indo-Pacific share a common vision. And our people share common dreams.

Over the past decade, our allies and partners across the region have written core elements of this vision.

Take Prime Minister Kishida, who has called for “a free and open order based on the rule of law, not might.”

And last month, at the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, the United States and our ASEAN partners declared our enduring commitment to the principles of “an open, inclusive, and rules-based regional architecture.” And the Quad leaders echoed that commitment at their own summit less than two weeks later. 

That means a shared belief in transparency.

It also means a dedication to openness and accountability.

It means a commitment to freedom of the seas, skies, and space.

And it means an insistence that disputes be resolved peacefully.

We seek a region free of aggression and bullying. And we seek a world that respects territorial integrity and political independence, a world that expands human rights and human dignity, and a world in which all countries—large and small—are free to thrive and to lawfully pursue their interests, free from coercion and intimidation.

Now, we know the riptides that we face—from COVID to cyber threats to nuclear proliferation.

And we feel the headwinds—from threats, and intimidation, and the obsolete belief in a world carved up into spheres of influence.

Now, we are confident that we can steer forward. But we can only do it together.

We all know the challenges that this region faces. The pandemic. Climate change. Nuclear threats from North Korea. Coercion by larger states against their smaller neighbors. And cruelty and violence from the regime in Myanmar. And threats in the gray zone.

These challenges demand shared responsibility and common action.

And we must all reaffirm our common commitment to uphold international law, and defend global norms, and oppose unilateral changes to the status quo.

You know, just last month, President Biden was in the region to reaffirm that these principles matter.

And he was also here to underscore the depth of American commitment to the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.

That commitment has grown over the years, and it is now the core organizing principle of American national-security policy.

Today, the Indo-Pacific is our priority theater of operations.

Today, the Indo-Pacific is at the heart of American grand strategy.

Today, senior American officials—including the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser, and so many others—travel constantly in this region.

And today, American statecraft is rooted in this reality: No region will do more to set the trajectory of the 21st century than this one.

And so the Indo-Pacific is our center of strategic gravity. That’s central to the Biden Administration’s forthcoming National Security Strategy and to my Department’s National Defense Strategy. And it’s why the first regional strategy that the Biden Administration released was our Indo-Pacific Strategy.

As President Biden said in May in Tokyo, “The United States is deeply invested in the Indo-Pacific. We’re committed for the long haul, ready to champion our vision for a positive future for the region with our friends and partners.”

You know, that future will be written not by any one country but by all the peoples of the Indo-Pacific. And I’m proud that our unparalleled network of alliances and partnerships has only deepened since the last time that I was in Singapore.

We’ve achieved an extraordinary amount in the past 11 months. And that progress is rooted in working together.

You see it in the region’s efforts to recover from the pandemic. And you see it in the rapid development of the Quad. And in our new, trilateral AUKUS security partnership. You see it in the launch of new climate resilience efforts with ASEAN. And in our close partnership with Pacific Island countries. You see it in new opportunities for cooperation among Japan, the Republic of Korea, and more. And in renewed, complex military exercises that deepen our interoperability and strengthen the region’s security.

But not all the news in the past year has been good. So I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss the historic crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s indefensible assault on a peaceful neighbor has galvanized the world. And Putin’s reckless war of choice has reminded us all of the dangers of undercutting an international order rooted in rules and respect. 

So we’re meeting today at a moment of great consequence—for the whole world, and not just for Europe. President Biden has been clear about the stakes. And the Ukraine crisis poses some urgent questions for us all.

Do rules matter?

Does sovereignty matter?

Does the system that we have built together matter?

I am here because I believe that it does.

And I am here because the rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe.

Now, our friends and partners also know that. And they understand that smaller countries have a right to peacefully resolve disputes with their larger neighbors.

That’s why Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and others have rushed security assistance to Ukraine. And it’s why countries across this region have sped humanitarian aid to the suffering Ukrainian people, including vital contributions from Singapore, Thailand, India, and Vietnam.

So let’s be clear: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all. It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors. And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.

So we understand what we could lose.

We see the dangers of disorder.

So let’s use this moment to come together in common purpose.

Let’s use this moment to strengthen the rules-based international order.

And let’s use this moment to think about the future that we all want.

That’s really why I’m here today.  The United States stands firmly beside our partners to ensure that we continue moving toward that shared vision.

And we will continue to do our part to strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific.

More members of the U.S. military are stationed here than in any other part of the world: more than 300,000 of our men and women.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget makes one of the largest investments in history to preserve this region’s security. And that includes $6.1 billion for our Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which will strengthen multilateral information-sharing and support training and experimentation with our partners.

To stay at the cutting edge, we must invest in innovation across all domains, including space and cyberspace. So we recently made the Department’s largest-ever budget request for research and development: more than $130 billion.

Meanwhile, we’re working hard to develop new capabilities that will allow us to deter aggression even more surely, including stealth aircraft, unmanned platforms, and long-range precision fires. And we’re on the cusp of delivering prototypes for high-energy lasers that can counter missiles. And we’re developing integrated sensors that operate at the intersection of cyber, EW, and radar communications.

And so all of this helps us do even more to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends.

Our security alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific are a profound source of stability. So our integrated deterrence in the region will continue to center on our ties with our proud treaty allies: Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. And we remain unwavering in our mutual-defense commitments. 

At the same time, we’re also weaving closer ties with other partners. I’m especially thinking of India, the world’s largest democracy. We believe that its growing military capability and technological prowess can be a stabilizing force in the region. 

And we’re taking our defense cooperation with Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam to the next level.

In the past year, my belief in the strategic power of partnerships has only deepened. And that’s at the heart of the President’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Our work together helps ensure that all countries in the region—large and small—have a say in its future. It helps ensure that the status quo can’t be disrupted in ways that harm all of our security. And it helps strengthen our ability to find common solutions to common challenges.

So I wanted to highlight three key ways in which we’ve been working together with our friends and partners over the past year—and how that’s bringing us closer to our shared vision for this region’s future.

First, we’re working with our partners and allies to ensure that they have the right capabilities to defend their interests, and to deter aggression, and to thrive on their own terms.

Now, as we invest in innovation in America, we’re committed to bringing our allies and partners along with us. And that means sharing the fruits of our R&D success. So we’re working with our friends to link our defense industrial bases, to integrate our supply chains, and even co-produce some key technologies. 

Last year, the Department launched the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve to quickly get promising technology and prototypes into the hands of our warfighters.  And we’re working even more closely with trusted partners as we test game-changing technologies together.

That’s another reason why our new security partnership with Australia and the U.K. is so important. AUKUS won’t just deliver nuclear-powered submarines. It holds out the promise of progress across a range of emerging tech areas that can bolster our deterrence, from AI to hypersonics. 

Emerging technology is crucial to prosperity also. To maintain the region’s access to this sort of critical technology, we need to keep its supply chains secure. And that’s central to our new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which President Biden recently launched with 12 partners from across the region—including many partners here in Southeast Asia. 

Now, I’m also very proud of our progress with our partners this past year in a second important area, and that area is exercises and training. That expands our common readiness. It deepens our interoperability. And it helps defend the principles that we share.

So we’ve stepped up the complexity, the jointness, and the scale of our combined exercises with our allies and partners.

Take our Keen Sword exercises with Japan, which this year used existing and emerging capabilities in a far more integrated manner.

Or take our Talisman Saber exercise with Australia, which was joined last time by Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the U.K., and—for the first time—the Republic of Korea.

In April, the United States and the Philippines held our annual Balikatan exercise. It was our 37th time, and the largest and most complex iteration—involving some 9,000 troops.

And last spring, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group rotated through the Indian Ocean. And we conducted simultaneous joint operations with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force that integrated airpower and anti-submarine warfare.

We’re also finding new ways for our friends to operate together—and looking for new constellations of partners, including good friends from Europe and beyond.

Just think of La Perouse, an exercise last spring with navies from Australia, France, India, and Japan.

Or consider Garuda Shield, our annual bilateral exercise with Indonesia. And this August, for the first time, we’re expanding it. It will now include a total of 14 participating countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, and Singapore.

And later this month, we will host the 28th iteration of RIMPAC. Forces from 26 countries—with 38 ships and nearly 25,000 personnel—will gather along U.S. shores for the world’s largest naval exercise.

Now, we’re also working more closely with our partners in ways that aren’t quite so visible. And that includes tackling gray-zone actions that chip away at international laws and norms.

And we’re bringing to bear the full resources of the U.S. government to do so. And that includes unprecedented Coast Guard investments in the Indo-Pacific.

I’m proud to say that the Coast Guard’s outstanding new Commandant, Admiral Linda Fagan, is here with us in Singapore—and within her first two weeks on the job, I might add.

You know, it’s the first time that a U.S. Coast Guard Commandant has joined us at the Shangri-La Dialogue. And it’s a sign of how important Southeast Asia is to the Coast Guard.

Next year, our Coast Guard will also deploy a cutter to Southeast Asia and Oceania. That will open up new opportunities for multinational crewing, training, and cooperation across the region. And it will be the first major U.S. Coast Guard cutter permanently stationed in the region.

All that brings me to a third important aspect of our common efforts to defend our shared principles.

More and more, we’re working in new, flexible, and custom-made ways with our friends. And our partners are doing the same thing with one another—even as we strengthen our commitment to ASEAN’s centrality and its leading place in the regional architecture. And that’s meant the rise of nimble and flexible security networks that add stability to the region.

You see this trend in important new discussions about regional security—with different groups of partners talking together about shared challenges, and working together in new ways.

Since 2015, Australia, India, and Japan have been holding security dialogues about maritime-security cooperation. In just the past few months, Japan and the Philippines launched a new 2+2 Dialogue. And so did Australia and India.

Our trilateral defense cooperation with Australia and Japan remains pivotal. And wecontinue to integrate our three militaries in key areas.

I was glad to attend ADMM-Plus last year, and I look forward to meeting with ASEAN defense ministers again this fall.

Meanwhile, over the past 18 months, we’ve helped to bring new vigor to the Quad. That includes a third Quad leaders’ summit last month, bringing together four of the region’s largest producers of prosperity and security. And as the Quad leaders have noted, they are eager to work with ASEAN and the Pacific Islands to advance our shared goals.

We’re also working together to make the region’s security architecture more transparent and more inclusive. 

So think of the new Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, which President Biden announced in Tokyo last month. This important initiative aims to provide better access to space-based, maritime domain awareness to countries across the region—including here in Southeast Asia.

This new partnership will harness together regional information centersthat will help us build a common operating picture—and work together to tackle illegal fishing and other gray-zone activities.

In today’s interconnected world, we’re also seeing new ways to support our European security partners’ growing engagement in the Indo-Pacific. 

So we’ll keep expanding our consultations with European countries on regional security issues. And we’ll deepen and widen the dialogue and cooperation among NATO and our core Indo-Pacific allies.

You know, several of our European allies have been deploying to the Indo-Pacific—and operating alongside our partners here in unprecedented ways. The United Kingdom made history last year with its deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, as part of a multinational carrier strike group that included a U.S. destroyer and an American Marine Corps F-35 squadron. And so it was a significant accomplishment.

Such deployments send a message of strength and stability. That’s deeply important for all the peoples of the region.

And it’s especially important given the challenges to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

As our National Defense Strategy notes, we all face a persistent threat from North Korea. The United States will always stand ready to deter aggression—and to uphold our treaty commitments and the will of the U.N. Security Council.

North Korea’s habitual provocations and missile tests only underscore the urgency of our task. And so we’re deepening the security cooperation among the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. Together, we’ll continue to strengthen our extended deterrence against nuclear arms and ballistic-missile systems. And we remain open to future diplomacy—and fully prepared to deter and to defeat future aggression.

We’ll also stand by our friends as they uphold their rights.

That’s especially important as the PRC adopts a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims. 

In the East China Sea, the PRC’s expanding fishing fleet is sparking tensions with its neighbors. In the South China Sea, the PRC is using outposts on man-made islands bristling with advanced weaponry to advance its illegal maritime claims. We’re seeing PRC vessels plunder the region’s provisions, operating illegally within the territorial waters of other Indo-Pacific countries. And further to the west, we see Beijing continue to harden its position along the border that it shares with India.

You know, Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion, or harassment by maritime militias.

So the Department of Defense will maintain our active presence across the Indo-Pacific. We will continue to support the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling. And we will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. And we’ll do this right alongside our partners.

And we’ll continue to be candid about the challenges that we all face.

We’ve seen an alarming increase in the number of unsafe aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea by PLA aircraft and vessels.

In February, a PLA Navy ship directed a laser at an Australian P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, seriously endangering everyone onboard. And in the past few weeks, PLA fighters have conducted a series of dangerous intercepts of allied aircraft operating lawfully in the East China and the South China Seas. Now this should worry us all.

The stakes are especially stark in the Taiwan Strait.

Our policy is unchanged and unwavering. It has been consistent across administrations. And we’re determined to uphold the status quo that has served this region so well for so long.

So let me be clear.

We remain firmly committed to our longstanding one-China policy—guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

We categorically oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side.

We do not support Taiwan independence.

And we stand firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means.

Now, as a part of our one-China policy, we will continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act. That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. And it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.

So our policy hasn’t changed. But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true for the PRC.

As my friend Secretary of State Blinken has also noted, we see growing coercion from Beijing. We’ve witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan. And that includes PLA aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months—and nearly on a daily basis.

We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the PRC’s moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. And that’s crucial for this region, and it’s crucial for the wider world.

Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn’t just a U.S. interest. It’s a matter of international concern.

So let me be clear. We do not seek confrontation or conflict. And we do not seek a new Cold War, an Asian NATO, or a region split into hostile blocs.

We will defend our interests without flinching. But we’ll also work toward our vision for this region—one of expanding security, one of increased cooperation, and not one of growing division.

I continue to believe that big powers carry big responsibilities. And so we’ll do our part to manage these tensions responsibly, and to prevent conflict, and to pursue peace and prosperity.

As I said in Singapore last year, great powers should be models of transparency and communication. So we’re working closely with both our competitors and our friends to strengthen the guardrails against conflict.

That includes fully open lines of communication with China’s defense leaders to ensure that we can avoid any miscalculations. These are deeply, deeply important conversations. And the United States is fully committed to doing our part. 

And that’s why I’m here today.

I’m proud of our commitment to this region.

I’m proud of our unmatched and unrivaled network of allies and partners.

And I’m proud of our commitment to openness and human dignity.

You know, in recent decades, we’ve become even more inclusive in our approach to the Indo-Pacific. We’ve expanded our cooperation with our allies and partners. And we’ve worked in tandem with new and existing regional institutions.

All that builds new habits of cooperation across this region. And it builds on old friendships in the Indo-Pacific, going back for many, many decades.

We seek inclusion, not division.

We seek cooperation, not strife.

And that means we’re following the wise counsel from Prime Minister Lee, who argues that nobody should force binary choices on the region. He’s right. Our fellow Indo-Pacific nations should be free to choose, free to prosper, and free to chart their own course.

Ladies and gentlemen, this region has already cast its vote on what kind of future it seeks. It’s an interconnected and optimistic future—one rooted in the rule of law, and a profound commitment to freedom and openness. And it’s a future that we can only make real by working together.

As President Kennedy put it back in 1962, “Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish justice throughout the world… or provide for its common defense, or promote its general welfare… But joined with other free nations, we can do all this, and more… And ultimately, we can help to achieve a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion.”

Now that’s a vision worth working for.

It’s a vision grounded in the best traditions of the United States.

And it’s a vision that reaches for the highest aspirations of the Indo-Pacific.

We don’t believe that this vision can be imposed. But we do believe that it can be achieved.

By working together.

By listening to one another.

By acting as good friends and good neighbors.

And by again showing the world the power of partnership.

It’s great to be here with all of you. Thank you very much.