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'The New Convergence in the Indo-Pacific': Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the 2024 Shangri-La Dialogue (As Delivered)

Good morning, everyone.

It is great to be back in Singapore. And I'm glad to see everyone for my third Shangri-La Dialogue as Secretary of Defense. So this is starting to be a habit. And Bastian and John told me that if I came back again this year, I'd get a free set of steak knives.


So let me again thank IISS and our hosts for bringing us together here. This is my fourth visit to Singapore as Secretary of Defense, and I've spoken at a IISS event every time. And there really is nothing like the Shangri-La Dialogue. 

I'm glad that we've got a distinguished bipartisan delegation here this year from the United States Congress. 

And let me thank Singapore for being such an outstanding host year after year. I'm especially grateful to Senior Minister Teo, and to my good friend, Minister Ng. Let me congratulate Prime Minister Wong on his new role. 

And you know, it's great to see so many friends and valued colleagues in Singapore, such as Deputy Prime Minister Marles and President-elect Prabowo. We've also got some great partners who are here for their first time as Ministers of Defense, including Minister Kihara, Minister Shin, Minister Collins, Minister Teodoro—Secretary Teodoro, and more.

And let me also note that yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet in person for the first time with Minister Dong of the People's Republic of China. We had a frank discussion. And that's important. When we all gathered here last year, I said that the right time for defense leaders to talk is anytime—and every time. So there is no substitute for direct military-to-military talks between senior leaders. And there's no substitute for open lines of communication to avoid misunderstanding and miscalculations. As I've always said, dialogue is not a reward. It's a necessity. And so I look forward to more talks with the PRC. 

Now, I know that you've seen a lot of me in this region. This is my tenth visit to the Indo-Pacific as Secretary of Defense. And I've attended every ADMM-Plus gathering on my watch. And that's because the United States is a Pacific nation. And it's because this region—more than any other—is shaping the course of this century. 

The United States is deeply committed to the Indo-Pacific. We are all in. And we're not going anywhere. 

As President Biden has said, "For decades, America's enduring commitment to the region has been a springboard that's enabled transformative growth, ensured the open flow of commerce, and lifted millions of people out of poverty." And in today's world, the President noted, "That relationship goes both ways. The United States remains vital to the future of the region—and the region is more vital than ever to the United States of America."

You know, I made my first trip to Singapore as Secretary of Defense back in July of 2021, in the first months of the Biden Administration. Singapore and the region were still in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and the whole audience was wearing masks. And leaders in this region were focused on how to source more vaccines, and to climb out of the pandemic, and open back up.

But the region's recovery since then has been nothing short of inspiring. And that's a reminder of how much we can achieve together, and how our deep ties can let us come together during tough times. It's a reminder of how the investments that we make today can pay dividends later—and often in new and unexpected forms of cooperation. So I'd like to summon that spirit again today.

We all understand the threats and challenges of today's global security landscape. They range from the mounting damage of climate change to the specter of pandemic disease; from nuclear dangers to terrorism and turmoil in the Middle East; and from Russia's reckless war on Ukraine to actions in this region that erode the status quo and threaten peace and stability. 

So we've gathered at a hinge in history. But over the past few years, in this region, we've risen to meet this moment—together.

You know, in my first speech in Singapore as Secretary of Defense, I said that "our countries share the shores of the Pacific. But we also share an understanding of the power of partnership." 

We understand that power because we've lived it. The United States and this region are more secure and more prosperous when we work together. And over the past three years, we've seen just what that looks like. Likeminded countries across this region have deepened our ties—and delivered real-world results for the people of the Indo-Pacific. 

In fact, our achievements together over the past three years reveal something even more fundamental about this region's future. Today, we are witnessing a new convergence around nearly all aspects of security in the Indo-Pacific. 

And this new convergence is producing a stronger, more resilient, and more capable network of partnerships. And that is defining a new era of security in the Indo-Pacific. 

You know, in the past, our experts would talk about a "hub-and-spokes" model for Indo-Pacific security. Today we're seeing something quite different. This new convergence is not a single alliance or coalition, but instead something unique to the Indo-Pacific—a set of overlapping and complementary initiatives and institutions, propelled by a shared vision and a shared sense of mutual obligation. 

This new convergence is about coming together, and not splitting apart. It isn't about imposing one country's will; it's about summoning our sense of common purpose. It isn't about bullying or coercion; it's about the free choices of sovereign states. And it's about nations of goodwill uniting around the interests that we share and the values that we cherish. 

Now, at the heart of this shared vision is a set of common principles. Countries across the Indo-Pacific, including the United States, are converging around these enduring beliefs: respect for sovereignty and international law. The free flow of commerce and ideas. Freedom of the seas and skies. And openness, transparency, and accountability. Equal dignity for every person. And the peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue—and not coercion or conflict. And certainly not through so-called punishment. 

These principles are widely shared. They are vital. And we have all seen the consequences when states choose to violate them. 

In February of 2022, Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine shocked the world—and this region. And since then, Putin's war of aggression has provided us all with a preview of a world that none of us would want. It's a glimpse of a world where tyrants trample sovereign borders, a world where peaceful states live in fear of their neighbors, and a world where chaos and conquest replace rules and rights. 

But Russia's lawless invasion also reminds us that free countries can rally together to help the victims of aggression. You know, we've all been inspired by the courage of Ukraine's troops and the resilience of Ukraine's people. Governments and people around the world have rushed to help Ukraine defend itself—including countries across the Indo-Pacific. And the United States will continue to stand strong for a free and secure Ukraine—and for an open world of rules, rights, and responsibilities. 

As Prime Minister Kishida said at the White House just a few weeks ago, "We must resolutely defend and further solidify a free and open international order based on the rule of law."

And those principles remain vital right here in the Indo-Pacific. You know, President Marcos spoke eloquently last night about the rule of law in the South China Sea. And he's right. Every country, large or small, has the right to enjoy its own maritime resources and to freely sail and operate wherever international law allows. The harassment that the Philippines has faced is dangerous—pure and simple. And we all share an interest in ensuring that the South China Sea remains open and free.

Peace and stability across this region are crucial for the whole world. Our friends in NATO, the European Union, and the G-7 know it, and so do we. So from day one, the Biden Administration has emphasized that the Indo-Pacific is at the heart of U.S. strategy.

Of course, we're not operating in a vacuum. Putin's imperial aggression against Ukraine has echoed around the world. So has the crisis in the Middle East after the vile October 7th Hamas terrorist assault on Israel, and the heartbreaking loss of Palestinian civilian life in Gaza since then. 

But despite these historic clashes in Europe and the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific has remained our priority theater of operations. Because just as what happens in Europe and the Middle East matters to this region, the actions that we take together here will continue shaping the 21st century for the entire world. And safeguarding the security and prosperity of this region remains the core organizing principle of U.S. national-security policy.

So let me be clear. The United States can be secure only if Asia is secure. That's why the United States has long maintained our presence in this region. And that's why we continue to make the investments necessary to meet our commitments to our allies and partners. 

Of course, this starts at home. The U.S. military remains the most capable fighting force on Earth. With the support of Congress, this Administration has delivered major funding every year to keep it that way. We have consistently linked our investments to our strategy. And I'm proud that, over the past three years, the United States has devoted historic amounts of resources toward maintaining peace, stability, and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.

Over the past three years, we have worked together with our friends to make this region more stable, more secure, and more prosperous. So today, I want to talk not just about the principles that we share but also about the results that we've delivered. 

The Department's National Defense Strategy calls U.S. alliances and partnerships our "greatest global strategic advantage." And today, that's truer than ever. So together with our friends in the region, we're breaking down national barriers and better integrating our defense industries.

With Japan, we're developing a Glide Phase Interceptor to counter hypersonic threats.

With India, we've made historic progress on co-producing fighter-jet engines and armored vehicles.

Across Southeast Asia, we're using new technology and training to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. And that includes working closely with our allies in the Philippines to field maritime defensive capabilities and expanding maritime domain awareness across the region. 

And this spring, President Biden secured unprecedented funding for Foreign Military Financing in the Indo-Pacific. We're moving quickly to get those funds to our partners. The recently passed National-Security Supplemental also included major investments in our submarine industrial base to help strengthen our AUKUS partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom.

We're also working together to fortify the shared capacity of the defense industrial bases of our allies and partners. That's why so many countries—including the United States—are endorsing a Statement of Principles today to strengthen the resilience of the region's defense industrial bases. 

And so we are operating together with our allies and partners like never before. And that part of the new convergence means more interoperability, more advanced capabilities, and more security.

With Japan and the Republic of Korea, we have created a multi-year trilateral exercise plan. Its highlight is a new, named exercise that will allow our countries to train together in unprecedented ways.

With the Philippines, Australia, France, and more than a dozen observer countries, we just concluded the biggest Balikitan exercise yet.

We're also making huge strides in two other major multinational exercises, Super Garuda Shield in Indonesia and Cobra Gold in Thailand. Both now have higher participation levels than before the pandemic. And they're both getting larger and more complex. 

We have also secured a series of historic agreements with our allies and partners to transform our force posture throughout the Indo-Pacific. 

With Japan, we're forward-stationing the most advanced formation in the United States  Marine Corps. With the Philippines, we're expanding U.S. rotational access to four new sites in the Philippines through our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. With Papua New Guinea, we finalized a historic Defense Cooperation Agreement just last year. And with Australia, we're moving out on major posture initiatives in every domain.

And so these agreements are historic. And they're just the starting point. 

We are on the verge of even more powerful changes to our posture and presence in the Indo-Pacific. These changes rest on new and future arrangements among our Indo-Pacific allies and partners, as well as with our European partners. 

And you can see this growing trend in the new reciprocal-access arrangement between Japan and Australia. And it's creating unprecedented opportunities. 

As these efforts mature, they will mean more seamless combined operations throughout the region. And the new convergence of overlapping and mutually reinforcing security institutions will amplify these activities. 

With Tokyo and Seoul, we're sharing early-warning data on North Korean missiles—in real time. We're advancing our partnership with Australia and Japan on an integrated air- and missile-defense architecture.

With the Quad, we're helping our partners sharpen their operational picture of their exclusive economic zones through the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness. We're also investing with ASEAN in training and educational opportunities for the future defense leaders of Southeast Asia.

So together, this new convergence has helped us make historic progress in the past three years.

And we've strengthened stability on the Korean Peninsula. We've supported the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. And we've stood up for the rule of law in the South China Sea. 

Now, sustaining this progress will take teamwork. It will take resolve. And it will take leadership. 

I mean the kind of leadership that we saw at Camp David last year, when President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida, and President Yoon began a new era of trilateral partnership among the United States, Japan, and the ROK. The kind of leadership that we saw from Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia when they resolved longstanding maritime boundary disputes. And the kind of leadership that we've seen from President Marcos, who spoke so powerfully last night about how the Philippines is standing up for its sovereign rights under international law.

And so that's why my belief in the power of partnership has never wavered. In fact, my belief has only grown—after 41 years in uniform and more than three and a half years as Secretary of Defense. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the progress that we've made together is built to last—not just for the next year, but for the next decade and beyond. 

And America will continue to play a vital role in the Indo-Pacific, together with our friends across the region that we share. And the United States, across the United States government, and across our political landscape, you'll find a strong and bipartisan commitment to the Indo-Pacific. 

Now, critics and propagandists will still oppose the principles that drive the new convergence. They will continue to reject the rule of law. And they will try to impose their will through coercion and aggression. 

But the Indo-Pacific's new convergence points to a better future for all of our countries. 

That means a future of fresh and growing partnerships. A future where longstanding friendships grow into even deeper forms of cooperation. A future where every country can defend itself. And a future where likeminded countries are more connected than ever.

Now that's the future that all of our people deserve. And together, we're making it real.

Together, we're investing in the capabilities that promote lasting security and stability. And together, we're ensuring that the Indo-Pacific will remain open and free. 

And so I am more determined than ever to build on these historic results of the past three years. 

I am more proud than ever of what we have achieved together. 

And I am more optimistic than ever about what lies ahead.

Thank you very much.