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IISS Shangri-La Dialogue: “A Regional Security Architecture Where Everyone Rises”

Well, thank you, John, thanks for that kind introduction.  Thank you for sponsoring this remarkable forum.  Over its history, IISS has hosted invaluable conversations like Shangri-La Dialogue and produced important scholarship.  And through all of that, you’ve made our world more secure.  On behalf of the United States, thank you.

One reason I’ve enjoyed coming to this Dialogue since attending it for the first time, as John noted, in 2002 is the opportunity to visit with so many good friends…the United States has in this region.  On my way to Southeast Asia, I attended a change-of-command ceremony the U.S. Pacific Command…in Hawaii and there I met with the Philippines’ National Defense Secretary Gazmin.  And when I arrived in Singapore, I had the opportunity to visit with Prime Minister Lee, who gave a characteristically wise and incisive keynote last night, and with Minister Ng to talk about regional challenges and a deepening defense relationship. 

Of course, I see so many friends and partners here today, and I’ll meet with many of you after these sessions.  From Singapore, I will travel to Vietnam with visits in Haiphong and then Hanoi, where Vietnamese Defense Minister General Thanh and I will sign a Joint Vision Statement commit to do so.  And then I will fly on to India to tour the Eastern Naval Command at Visag and meet with my counterpart in New Delhi to sign the new U.S.-India Defense Framework that will guide military cooperation between us for the next decade.

Each of these stops, just like my visits to Japan and the Republic of Korea last month, is a reminder of the regional demand for persistent American engagement and the importance of the regional security architecture that has helped so many Asia-Pacific nations to rise and prosper. 

And that’s the theme of my remarks today: the United States wants a shared regional architecture that is strong enough, capable enough, and connected enough to ensure that all Asia-Pacific peoples and nations have the opportunity to rise – and continue to rise – in the future.  The United States wants a future in which an Indonesian fisherman, an energy executive from Malaysia, an entrepreneur from Singapore, a small business owner in California, and a Chinese businesswoman – just to name a few – have the security and opportunity to rise and prosper.  And the United States wants to protect the rights of all countries, whether large or small, to win…to rise, to prosper and to determine their own destiny.

To realize that future, the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture must be inclusive, it must be open, and it must be transparent.  It must respect rights, and not just might.  It cannot shy away from the hard issues…it must provide a forum to openly discuss the challenges we face, so that we can tackle them collectively.  It must be action-oriented to help us manage today’s challenges and prevent tomorrow’s crises.  And it must reward cooperation, not coercion.

That’s an audacious idea, but we meet today in a country that demonstrates what determination, consistency, and persistence can do, though we do so with heavy hearts.  Lee Kuan Yew once said that, quote, “Anybody who thinks he is a statesman needs to see a psychiatrist,” but the world lost a great friend and indeed one of its premier statesmen with his passing earlier this year.  Lee Kuan Yew’s spirit of statesmanship endures, perhaps nowhere more than in this room. 

Here men and women of goodwill come together to think critically about the region’s future.  We owe it to Lee Kuan Yew – who described his leadership style as, quote, “I set out to do something.  I keep on chasing it until it succeeds”– and we owe it to all those we represent – citizens, organizations, governments, and businesses – to work together until we succeed…until every nation can rise...and everybody wins.  That’s the future we all need to keep chasing.

We’ve succeeded before.  Over the past 70 years, the Asia-Pacific has grown and prospered in so many ways…Miracle after miracle has occurred:  first Japan, then Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, including Singapore, rose and prospered, and now, China and India are rising and prospering.

And the region is not done yet.  Today, over 60 percent of the world’s population lives in the Asia-Pacific.  It’s the fulcrum of the global economy, one of the fastest growing regions of the world.  That sustained growth – supported by increased regional and international trade – has lifted millions out of poverty and into the middle class.  And even though there’s still room for improvement, democracy and freedom have spread throughout the region.

Meanwhile, the United States is doing well too.   Following the worst recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy has made great gains – in both jobs and GDP.  Progress will continue because of America’s dynamic and innovative businesses, strong commitment to the rule of law, world-class universities, and the domestic energy revolution now underway.  And the U.S. military, long the finest fighting force the world has ever known, has improved its readiness while maintaining its unmatched operational edge and unrivaled capabilities. 

America’s so-called rebalance has always been about sustaining the progress occurring all around the Asia-Pacific and helping the region continue to fulfill its promise.  As Secretary of Defense, I am personally committed to its next phase, in which DoD will deepen long-standing alliances and partnerships, diversify America’s force posture, and make new investments in key capabilities and platforms.  The Department is investing in the technologies that are most relevant to this complex security environment, such as new unmanned systems for the air and sea, a new long-range bomber, and new technologies like the electromagnetic railgun, lasers, and new systems for space and cyberspace, including a few surprising ones. 

As the United States develops new systems, DoD will continue to bring the best platforms and people forward to the Asia-Pacific, such as the latest Virginia-class submarines, the Navy's P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the newest stealth destroyer, the Zumwalt, and brand-new carrier-based E-2D Hawkeye early-warning-and-control aircraft.

But the rebalance’s next phase is more than just about security.  The United States is increasing economic and diplomatic engagement.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, or TPP, just passed an important milestone in the U.S. Congress, and when it’s completed, it will unlock tremendous economic opportunities, not only for the United States, but for countries across the Pacific Rim.  It will create a diverse network of trade and investment relations driven by TPP’s high standards, reducing reliance on any one network.  Diplomatically, Secretary Kerry and other members of the Cabinet are making frequent visits to the region and hosting many of their counterparts this year.  President Obama will meet a number of Asian leaders at the White House before travelling here again in November.

The entire Obama Administration and many others in Washington – both Republican and Democrat – are devoted to the rebalance.  The rebalance enjoys strong, bipartisan support in Congress, as you can see from the large and distinguished Congressional delegation joining me here today.  Senator McCain, Senator Reed, Senator Hirono, Senator Ernst, Senator Gardner, Senator Sullivan have been and will continue to be leaders on this important national effort. 

That’s because, for decade upon decade, regardless of what else was going on at home or in other parts of the world – during Democratic and Republican presidencies, in time of surplus and deficit, war and peace – the United States has stood with its allies and partners here and helped maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.  And the United States always will.  

It’s important to remember that America’s rebalance– and our overall and long-standing strategy to promote an Asia-Pacific regional security architecture where everyone rises – has never aimed to hold any nation back or push any country down.  The United States wants every nation to have an opportunity to rise, and prosper, and win…because it’s good for the region and good for all our countries. 

Indeed, as countries across the Asia-Pacific rise – as nations develop, as military spending increases, and as economies thrive – we expect to see changes in how countries define and pursue their interests and ambitions. 

In addition to those changes, we’ve seen the region’s complex security environment become more fraught.  North Korea continues to provoke.  Decades-long disputes over rocks and shoals are compounded by quarrels over fishing rights, energy resources, and freedom of access to international waters and airspace.  As the challenge of climate change looms larger, natural disasters not only threaten lives, but also upset trade and economic growth.  And at the same time, terrorism, foreign fighters, cyberattacks, and trafficking in both people and narcotics plague this region like any other.

These challenges risk upsetting the positive trajectory we’ve all been on…and the rise of so many in the Asia-Pacific.  That can make it hard to remember our common interests, but the progress we’ve made, and must continue, demands that we do so. 

Unlike elsewhere in the world, the peace in Asia-Pacific has never been maintained by a region-wide alliance like NATO in Europe.  And that made sense for the Asia-Pacific, with its unique history, geography, and politics.  Instead, regional peace, stability, and security here have required all of our nations coming together behind shared interests. 

We must continue to come together.  Today and in the years ahead, security must be the shared responsibility of all us, of all our nations.  With the strengthening of the East Asia Summit, we have the foundation for a stronger architecture.  It’s incumbent upon all of us to make it better…by reaffirming our long-standing rules and norms, strengthening our institutions, modernizing alliances, enhancing capabilities, and improving connectivity.  As President Obama said in Brisbane last year, an effective security order for Asia must be based – not on spheres of influence, or coercion, or intimidation where big nations bully the small – but on alliances of mutual security, international law and international norms, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

First, we must all reaffirm the guiding principles and the rules that have served this region so well.  Disputes should be resolved peacefully…through diplomacy, not aggression or intimidation.  All countries should have the right to freedom of navigation and overflight so global commerce can continue unimpeded.  And all nations should be able to make their own security and economic choices free from coercion. 

These are the rights of all nations.  They are not abstractions, and nor are they subject to the whims of any one country.  They are not privileges to be granted or withdrawn by any country.  These rules make sense: they’ve worked, and they can continue to help all our nations to rise – as long as we reinforce them instead of putting them at risk. 

Second, we must strengthen regional institutions.  The nations of ASEAN have laid the foundation for the architecture in Southeast Asia that we enjoy today, and ASEAN will continue to be central to it.

That’s why the United States and the Department of Defense are making an affirmative investment of time, resources, and engagement in ASEAN.  That’s why America has committed to sending a new U.S. Defense Advisor to augment the U.S. Mission to ASEAN in order to improve coordination and information sharing for humanitarian and disaster response and for maritime security.  That’s also why I plan to travel to Malaysia in November for this year’s ADMM-Plus meeting,

As ASEAN works to build its community in the years ahead, the United States encourages member countries to continue to seek out new and innovative ways to work together and pool resources to maintain regional security.

Third, America’s alliances and partnerships have been the bedrock of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific for decades. 

And the United States is working with allies like Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines to be sure all our alliances continue to serve this vital function.  Modernization means changing these alliances to address the evolving threat environment as the United States has done with South Korea and growing those alliances into platforms for regional and global cooperation, as we’ve done with Australia and Japan.

Under Prime Minister Abe, Japan is increasing its engagement in Southeast Asia.  Through the recently updated Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation, the United States and Japan will be able to do more as an alliance in the region and beyond.  Forward-stationing America’s most advanced capabilities in Japan – such as the Global Hawk long-range surveillance drone, AEGIS ballistic-missile-defense destroyers, and the recently announced CV…CV-22 Osprey – will further enable rapid and allied responses to regional contingencies. 

Meanwhile the U.S.-Korea alliance not only assures deterrence and stability on the Korean Peninsula; it increasingly works for the region as well.  And…and in Australia, U.S. and Australian forces now train side-by-side not only with each other as they have for many years, but also with friends and partners across Southeast Asia.  

Beyond alliances, the United States is also deepening its partnerships with friends across the region, including India, and Vietnam, where, as I said, I will travel next week.  The United States is looking for new ways to complement India’s Act East policy and find meaningful areas of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.  And the 2015 U.S.-India Defense Framework I will sign next week will open up this relationship on everything from maritime security to aircraft carrier and jet engine technology cooperation. 

We’re leveraging America’s alliances and partnerships to pursue…new forms of cooperation and that is why America’s trilateral networks are blossoming.  With Japan and Australia, the United States is strengthening maritime security in Southeast Asia, expanding trilateral exercises, and exploring defense technology cooperation.  With Japan and Korea, the United States is building on a first-of-its-kind information-sharing arrangement that will help them collectively deter and respond to crises.  And with Japan and India, the United States is sharing lessons learned on disaster responses and building greater maritime security cooperation.

Fourth, in addition to strengthening relationships, we must enhance the capacities of the regional security architecture, particularly on maritime security. 

American men and women in uniform are working together with countries in the region to build that capacity – especially on maritime security.  

For example, the U.S.S. Fort Worth, one of the Navy’s nimble littoral combat ships, just returned from a regional tour, where it was welcomed everywhere from South Korea to Southeast Asia.  And Singapore’s willingness to host LCS ships like Fort Worth helps all of us respond more quickly and effectively to regional crises.  For example, when Air Asia Flight 8501 disappeared this past winter, the Fort Worth was able to be on the scene within 24 hours to help with search and recovery. 

We’re doing even more together.  In Vietnam, where I will travel next, the United States is providing equipment and infrastructure support to the Vietnamese coast guard.  Just this month in Malaysia, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier strike group participated in air combat training with Malaysian air and surface units.  In the Philippines, the United States is helping to build a National Coast Watch System to improve Manila’s maritime domain awareness.  And in Indonesia, America recently began conducting sea surveillance exercises together, which included, for the first time flight portions over the South China Sea.

And that’s just a start.  Today, I am pleased to announce that DoD will be launching a new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.  And thanks to the leadership of the Senators here today…and others, Congress has taken steps to authorize up to $425 million dollars for these maritime capacity-building efforts. 

And fifth, to ensure that our institutions, alliances, partnerships, and capability…cap…excuse me, capacity building efforts meet their potential, we must be better connected.  We can accomplish this by working together, communicating better, and developing habits of cooperation. 

Every year the United States helps plan and host hundreds of exercises and engagements in the region.  From Foal Eagle to Balikatan, from Malabar to Garuda Shield, RIMPAC, Talisman Sabre to Cobra Gold, with every engagement we get smarter and more effective together, while decreasing the risk of misinterpretation and miscalculation. 

We can also limit that risk by improving communication further.  For example, the United States and China have agreed to two historic confidence-building agreements this past fall, and the United States hopes to do more.  We’re working to complete another measure this year that aims to prevent dangerous air-to-air encounters.  Building better habits of U.S.-China military-to-military cooperation not only benefits both countries but benefits the whole region as well.

Beyond exercises and military-to-military cooperation, we also build habits of cooperation when we work together to confront real world challenges, such as responding to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.

These efforts are critically important in a disaster-prone region.  Just a few weeks ago, the United States worked together with partners to respond to Nepal’s tragic earthquake, with U.S. Marines, based in Okinawa, helping alongside India, Japan, China, Thailand, and others.  And we don’t just work together.  We sacrifice together.  Tragically, six U.S. Marines and two Nepalese soldiers perished when their helicopter went missing in the mountains during relief operations.  Their loss will not be forgotten.  Together we can honor their memory by continuing the work they began. 

America has been here, after typhoons, earthquakes, and plane crashes… and America will keep being here…committed to the long-standing practice of playing a part, a pivotal part, in assuring safety and stability in a region, the region.

We face today another humanitarian crisis.  As we speak, an urgent refugee situation is unfolding in the Bay of Bengal that requires both a comprehensive solution and quick action to save lives.  I want to commend Malaysia’s leadership, as well as Indonesia, Thailand, and others, who are working along with the United States and others, to locate the migrants and prepare search and rescue operations. 

These humanitarian efforts, and the habits of cooperation they help form, demonstrate what we can do when we work together.  Working together, as we have in Nepal, in the fight against piracy, and in preventing illegal trafficking and fishing in the Gulf of Thailand – just to name a few examples – allows us do more and better around the region.  And that’s how we reach the future a stronger security architecture affords…a future where everyone continues to rise and everyone continues to win.

To realize that future, we must tackle urgent issues like the security and stability of the South China Sea.

Yesterday, I took an aerial transit of the Strait of Malacca.  And when viewed from the air, it is even clearer how critical this region’s waterways are to international trade and energy resources.  We’ve all benefitted from free and open access to the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.  We all have a fundamental stake in the security of the South China Sea.  And that’s why we all have deep concerns about any party that attempts to undermine the states [sic] quo and generate instability there, whether by force, coercion, or simply by creating irreversible facts on the ground, in the air, or in the water. 

Now, it’s true that almost all the nations that claim parts of the South China Sea have developed outposts over the years…of differing scope and degree.  In the Spratly Islands, Vietnam has 48 out…posts; the Philippines, eight; Malaysia, five; and Taiwan, one. 

Yet, one country has gone much further and much faster than any other.  And that’s China.

China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined…and more than in the entire history of the region.  And China did so in only the last 18 months.  It is unclear how much farther China will go.  That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region and front-page news around the world.

The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities…to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states.  As a Pacific nation, a trading nation, and a member of the international community, the United States has every right to be involved and concerned.  But these are not just American concerns.  Nations across the region and the world, many of you here in the room today, have also voiced the same concerns and raised questions about China’s intentions in constructing these massive outposts.

So let me make clear the position of the United States:

First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes.  To that end, there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants.  We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features.  We all know there is no military solution to the South China Sea disputes.   Right now, at this critical juncture, is the time for renewed diplomacy, focused on a finding a lasting solution that protects the rights and the interests of all.  As it is central to the regional security architecture, ASEAN must be a part of this effort: the United States encourages ASEAN and China to conclude a Code of Conduct this year.  And America will support the right of claimants to pursue international legal arbitration and other peaceful means to resolve these disputes, just as we will oppose coercive tactics. 

Second, the United States will continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight – principles that have ensured security and prosperity in this region for decades.  There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world.  America, alongside its allies and partners in the regional architecture, will not be deterred from exercising these rights – the rights of all nations.  After all, turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.

Finally, with its actions in the South China Sea, China is out of step with both the international rules and norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture, and the regional consensus that favors diplomacy and opposes coercion.  These actions are spurring nations to respond together in new ways: in settings as varied as the East Asia Summit to the G-7, countries are speaking up for the importance of stability in the South China Sea.  Indonesia and the Philippines are putting aside maritime disputes and resolving their claims peacefully.  And in venues like ADMM-Plus and East Asia Maritime Forum [sic: Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum], nations are seeking new protocols and procedures to build maritime cooperation.    

The United States will always stand with its allies and partners.  It’s important for the region to understand that America is gonna remain engaged…continue to stand up for international law and universal principles…and help provide security and stability in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come. 

The South China Sea is just one issue we will face as the Asia-Pacific continues to rise and prosper.  There will surely be others.  We cannot predict what challenges the future holds, but we do know how we can work to ensure the peace and prosperity…the region, and the opportunity to rise for all nations and all people…for that to happen, we must do so together.  What the region needs instead, is an architecture where everyone rises and everybody wins.

That’s what is happening across the region right now.  We come together on a daily basis to settle disputes, respond to crises, and prevent conflict.  For example, in the Bay of Bengal, India and Bangladesh have proven that diplomacy can work in resolving maritime differences.  In Southeast Asia, nations like Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia are developing new training facilities that will build regional capacity in peacekeeping, disaster relief, and counter-terrorism.  And in the Indian Ocean, many nations, including China, are rooting out the scourge of piracy. 

But we all know we have more work to do.   And by taking steps now to ensure the regional architecture that has reinforced norms, stronger institutions and alliances, more capabilities, and deeper connectivity, we can ensure our successors at the Shangri-La Dialogue in twenty years will be talking about the challenges and opportunities presented by the rise of yet other Asia-Pacific nations.  But I hope they’ll also be discussing, perhaps, the latest U.S.-China-India multilateral maritime exercise…a Japan-ROK joint disaster response in the South China Sea…and ASEAN-wide security network…new understanding for cyberspace that ensures security and the free flow of information. 

If those are the conversations at Shangri-La 2035, we will have succeeded.  We will still face challenges and crises…but we will face them together, with a regional security architecture where everyone rises and everybody wins.  And that will be a worthy legacy.

Thank you.