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Remarks at the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting - Plus (ADMM-Plus)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Minister Hishammuddin, not only for hosting this session, but for your leadership here in Malaysia. Under your watch, Malaysia continues to be an important leader in the region and partner to the United States. I’m looking forward to spending the day tomorrow with you in Sabah.

When I last saw many of you at Shangri-La in May, I emphasized the need to continue to build a shared regional architecture that is strong enough, capable enough, and connected enough to ensure that all Indo-Asia-Pacific nations have the opportunity to continue to win, to rise, to prosper, and determine their own destiny.

To realize that future, we must continue to have a security architecture that is inclusive and open. It must respect rights, not just might. It must reward cooperation, not coercion. It must be based on international law and globally accepted norms.

This is my third trip to the Indo-Asia-Pacific as Secretary. President Obama will be returning to the region later this month. This is a consequential region to America’s future, which is why our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific remains a top priority. To that end, our rebalance is more than just defense policy. We must look to political and economic avenues as well.

Politically, President Obama and Secretary Kerry remain deeply engaged in the region.

Economically, the historic trade deal between many of our nations – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – is critical to our future growth and security. It will further expand economic opportunities around the Pacific Rim by strengthening rules-based cooperation. It deepens our partnerships. It helps ensure the Asia-Pacific remains a place where all nations continue to have an opportunity to rise. And it underscores our lasting commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

No matter the avenue – political, defense, or economic – ASEAN is at the core of a successful security architecture in this region. ASEAN nations laid the foundation for the stability in Southeast Asia that we enjoy today – and we see a stable and prosperous ASEAN as a cornerstone for a secure region well into the future.

ASEAN is both a source of rules and a steward of the rules-based regional order. ASEAN convenes the region, including this forum, the ADMM-plus, or fora like the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit, to facilitate dialogue, build consensus, and form habits of practical cooperation…all of which are essential to a stable, open, and prosperous region.

That is why the United States will continue to invest time and resources to partner with ASEAN. That’s also why President Obama will travel here later this month for the East Asia Summit and U.S.-ASEAN Summit.

In today’s world, no region’s security, no nation’s security, can be assured without a global view. And I note other speakers’ mention of the need to seek a Korean Peninsula at peace and free of nuclear weapons, continue the mission to build security in Afghanistan, and also the need to defeat ISIL and promote peaceful political transition in Syria and avoid further fueling the civil war. But I will focus my remarks on the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. activities throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, through the rebalance and more broadly, are helping to build a security architecture I described and in which ASEAN remains an important part.
First, we will work to build our partners’ maritime capacity and capabilities, so we can face shared challenges, together. And I’m pleased to say that we’re preparing to move out on the Maritime Security Initiative that I announced at Shangri-La in May – a critical part of our overall efforts. Through MSI, we will focus on building an inclusive, shared maritime domain awareness architecture that will help countries in the region share information, identify potential threats, and work collaboratively to address common challenges. Ultimately, we believe MSI will help our allies and partners develop the right mix of capabilities, which is why the Department will fully fund this initiative at $425 million over the next five years.

Second, we are leveraging defense diplomacy to reduce risk and promote shared rules of the road. That’s why we’re participating in so many exercises across the region, and that’s why we’ve also established four confidence-building measures with China.

Third, we are strengthening America’s capacity to deter conflict and coercion and respond decisively. We are adjusting our presence, posture, and operations in the region to deter aggression, support our allies and partners, and stand up for freedom of navigation.

Fourth, we’re also modernizing our alliances and partnerships that are the bedrock of peace and stability. As the threat environment evolves, our partnerships will evolve, too.

Modernizing our relationships in the region also means advancing alliances into platforms for regional and global cooperation, as we’ve done with Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, and which is further indicated by the blossoming of new trilateral networks among the nations here today.

In any venue – the international rules of the road are what underlie all our efforts. That’s why, Mr. Chairman, as you well know, many of the participants here remain concerned about the South China Sea. While the United States takes no position on sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea, we do have an interest and an obligation – as do others – to uphold international law and standards. And these rules are global, they extend to the Arctic. We support existing diplomatic and legal processes, such as the ASEAN’s Code of Conduct and the Law of the Seas Tribunal.

Freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce are not new concepts; they are not theoretical or aspirational goals; in this part of the world, these rules have worked for decades to promote peace and prosperity. What is new is the intensive and aggressive reclamation of features in the South China Sea. Make no mistake: these new facts will not change what we’ve always done. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

Recently in Washington, President Xi said China, one claimant, is “committed to respecting and upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy according to international law,” and pledged that China “does not intend to pursue militarization” of outposts in the South China Sea.

This is a positive step, but we all must mean what we say. The United States and the rest of the region will be watching closely to see how China’s actions reflect the commitments of its leadership. The US calls on all claimants to put a halt to reclamation and further militarization.

Today, as our nations gather in peaceful security talks, we can’t take for granted the reasons that have led to miracle after miracle in this region – first Japan, then Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, including Singapore, rose and prospered, and now, China and India are doing the same.

As we have for 70 years, the United States continues to underwrite stability in the Asia-Pacific. As a result of the region’s progress, we no longer have to do it alone. Thankfully, together, we are greater than the sum of our parts. The future we want for all of our peoples and our nations is one where ASEAN is central to protecting rules and norms that have allowed each nation, free from coercion, to choose their own path.

In the Asia-Pacific – the fulcrum of the global economy, home to more than half the world’s people – the United States stands ready to work with all of you to reinforce a security architecture where everybody continues to win.

Thank you.