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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Participates in Fullerton Lecture Series in Singapore

MODERATOR:  Secretary Austin, Senior Minister Teo, Minister Ng, Charge d'Affaires Mansour, welcome to all of you, and also, to the many hundreds of you watching online to the 40th IISS-Fullerton Lecture.  On behalf of our director-general, John Chipman, who is watching us this evening in London, I'd like to say that we're especially pleased to welcome Secretary Austin here to Singapore this evening.

Every year for the last 20 years, the United States secretary of defense has addressed a global audience through the International Institute for Strategic Studies to lay out their view of the changing strategic landscape here in Southeast Asia, and in Asia more broadly, and we're very happy to continue that tradition this evening.

And to do so, while welcoming you, Secretary Austin, on your first trip to Southeast Asia since taking up position in January.  Mr. Secretary, I might say that I'm confident that while this may be the first time that we welcome you here in Southeast Asia, it will not be the last.  In particular, we look forward to your speaking, as is the tradition, in the opening plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue when it returns bigger and better than ever in June 2022.

That being said, I'd like to begin with some thanks.  As those of you in the audience will know, for the last decade, the Fullerton Lecture Series has brought global leaders to Singapore to address issues of regional common interest, beginning 10 years ago with the first lecture by the secretary-general of the United Nations.  And it would not be possible without the support of Cavallari Giovanni and all of his team here at the Fullerton Hotel.  And so we'd like to express our appreciation to them, and to say thank you for their continued support.

Tonight is not only the restart of the -- the series after the -- the restart of this series after the pandemic; it's also a particularly opportune time to hear the remarks that the secretary is going to make.  This is a time of great change in our region.  Southeast Asia is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, an event that has changed the region's economic and strategic balance.  We're six months into the Biden administration, and I think it would be fair to say that many in this room and many watching are eager to hear more details of the administration's view of the balance of the region.

We face undeniably growing competition between the U.S. and China, and questions about how the U.S. will seek to manage that competition.  There's particular concern about potential conflicts over Taiwan, as well as in the South China Sea.  Here in Southeast Asia, states are seeking cordial relations with both powers even at a time where questions are being asked about ASEAN and the role that it plays in the region's security landscapes.

And meanwhile, there are other players coming into the region, too.  Many of you will have seen the United Kingdom carrier strike group pass through the straits yesterday, including significant U.S. participation, one of many outside players beginning to play -- or seek to play a role in this region's security.

So Secretary Austin has entitled his address this evening "The Imperative of Partnership", and I know that many of America's friends and partners in this audience and around the region are looking forward to learning about these points and others during the secretary's remarks.

So before we begin, some brief housekeeping:  Our lecture this evening will run for one hour.  We have, as you can see, various safe management measures in place.  We've asked that the audience do not take pictures during the lecture that the secretary gives.  We'd ask you to turn off your phones, or at least to turn them to silent.  When the secretary comes to speak, he'll give his speech for 20 or 25 minutes.  He's then agreed to take a period of questions, which I will moderate.

Those questions will be taken partly from those of you in the room.  If you want to ask a question, then raise your hand and I'll ask you to stand up and ask your question so that you're clearly visible to those in the room, but also, to those watching online.  Those of you watching online, you can ask your questions using the Zoom Q&A function, and I have a magic iPad on my desk, and I'll be able to see them and pick a small selection.  And then, we'll end the event no later than 7:00 o'clock.

So with that, and on behalf of all of us at the IISS and those of you in the room, I'd ask you to give a round of applause to Secretary Austin.

And Secretary Austin, the floor is yours.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III:  Well, good evening, everyone.  It's great to be here in Singapore, and it's an honor to be giving what I'm told is the 40th Fullerton lecture.

IISS has done an outstanding job enriching our dialogue and -- about the Indo-Pacific, and James, thanks to you and John for all that you've done to make this event possible.

It's also great to see Senior Minister Teo and Minister of Defense Ng.  Thank you both for your tremendous hospitality.

Now, we're meeting in difficult times, but we're working with our friends so that we all come out of the pandemic stronger than before.  I'm here to represent a new American administration, but also to affirm -- reaffirm our enduring American commitments, and above all, I want to talk about the strategic imperative of partnership.

You know, I learned a core lesson over four decades as a soldier in peace and in war, and that lesson is that nobody can go it alone, at least, not for very long.  We are far stronger and for far longer, when we come together than we -- when we let ourselves be split apart, and the United States and this region are more secure and more prosperous when we work together with our allies and partners.

Together with our friends, we face a range of challenges in this region that demand common action.  There are transnational threats like the pandemic and the existential threat of climate change, the specter of coercion from rising powers, the nuclear dangers from North Korea, the struggles against repression inside countries such as Myanmar and leaders who ignore the rule of law and abuse the basic rights and dignity that all people deserve.  We will meet those challenges together.

In the days ahead I'll travel from Singapore to see my counterparts in Vietnam and the Philippines.  I've come to Southeast Asia to deepen America's bonds with the allies and partners on whom our common security depends.  Our network of alliances and friendships is an unparalleled strategic asset, and I never take an ally for granted.

Together this region can rebuild from the pandemic and move forward to an even brighter future, in an even stronger rules-based international order.  And that means more security, more stability, more prosperity, more resilience and more openness.

We're proud to renew a longstanding bipartisan belief that our partnerships are especially vital in times of great challenge and change. 

You know, all of our countries have suffered from COVID-19 and it's taking a terrible toll, yet the Indo-Pacific has been tested before.  Our recent history has been marked by grave crises, and by inspiring efforts to tackle them in common purpose.  And we've seen it over and over again, from the aftermath of World War II, to the frosts of the Cold War, to the panic of the 1997 financial crisis, to the ravages of the 2004 tsunami.

Yet at so many key junctures the countries of the Indo-Pacific resisted the temptation to turn inward, and instead forged strong ties and built a more inclusive and secure and prosperous region.

Today amid this merciless pandemic we stand together at another hinge moment, and we face another choice between the power of partnership and the dangers of division.

I am confident that through our collective efforts the Indo-Pacific will rise again to the challenge.  And America will be right at your side, just as an old friend should.

And after COVID-19, we don't believe that the goal should be to just return to the way that things were.  We stand ready to work together, as President Biden says, to build back better.

And so, the central question for us all is how can we unite to recover and -- and rebuild?  And how do we work hand-in-hand to forge a more resilient regional order?

We think that the answer involves three components, and all of them are rooted in the imperative of partnership.

First, the most urgent task is recovery.  We must redouble our fight against COVID and raise up a safer, healthier and more prosperous future. 

Second, we must look further ahead and invest in the cooperation and the capabilities and the vision of deterrence that will meet the security challenges here in Southeast Asia and across the Indo-Pacific.

And third, we must recommit ourselves to the great long-term project of coming together as Pacific states to build a free and open region, one that stretches towards new horizons of partnership, prosperity and progress.

And let me talk a little bit more about these three areas.  First, recovery. 

We must focus on the fundamentals, working urgently together to tackle the COVID crisis and to restore the regions economic dynamism.

The pandemic has reminded us how deeply our world is interwoven.  Today a threat to global health anywhere is a threat to security everywhere.  And so the United States has been rushing urgently needed assistance across the Indo-Pacific.  And that includes testing equipment, oxygen supplies, PPE, ventilators and storage for vaccines.  And my team has been pushing hard to find other ways to help, including providing logistic support, establishing mobile clinics, and offering new military medicine training.

But global recovery requires global vaccination.  And so we are rushing life-saving vaccine doses to the region.  President Biden has committed to deliver more than 500 million shots worldwide over the next year.  And the Indo-Pacific is a top priority.

You know, in just the past two months we have shared some 40 million doses throughout the region, including Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Now, the vaccines developed in the United States are medical miracles.  They are incredibly effective at saving lives and preventing serious illness.  And you know what?  They're free.  No conditions, no small print and no strings attached.  Because this is an emergency and that's what friends do.

And so we'll keep working to end this plague for everyone and everywhere.  And we've watched with admiration as countries across the region have come together to fight it.

When India was besieged, its friends stepped up, and we salute Singapore for rushing to the scene with two C-130s carrying some 250 oxygen cylinders.  And Singapore has three new vaccine production facilities planned or under construction, which will help more rapidly deploy vaccines throughout the region in future crisis.

Meanwhile, through the Quad's vaccine initiative, India, Japan, Australia and the United States have committed to producing and delivering a billion vaccine doses right here in the Indo-Pacific.  And South Korea is aiming to -- to produce up to a billion vaccine doses this year.  And to help, the United States and South Korea, have established a comprehensive vaccine partnership.

The pandemic is still raging.  And the road to recovery will be long.  Yet these partnerships reflect our common determination and common humanity.

And that brings me to the second way that our teamwork can create an even stronger region -- and that is by coming together to tackle current and emerging challenges in the region that is the highest strategic priority for the Department of Defense, the Indo-Pacific region.

Now, President Biden has made clear that the United States will lead with diplomacy.  And the Department of Defense will be here to provide the resolve and reassurance that America's diplomats can use to help prevent conflict from breaking out in the first place.  As I've said before, it's always better to stamp out an ember than to try to put out a blaze.

So deterrence remains a cornerstone of American security.  And for decades we have maintained the capabilities, the presence, and the relationships needed to ward off conflict and to preserve the stability that lies at the heart of our shared prosperity.

Yet emerging threats and cutting-edge technologies are changing the face and the pace of warfare.  So we're operating under a new 21st century vision that I call integrated deterrence.

Now, integrated deterrence means using every military and non-military tool in our toolbox in lockstep with our allies and partners.  Integrated deterrence is about using existing capabilities, and -- and building new ones, and deploying them all in new and networked ways -- all tailored to a region's security landscape, and growing in partnership with our friends.

And so, together we're aiming to coordinate better, to network tighter and to innovate faster.  And we're working to ensure that our allies and partners have the capabilities, the capacities and the information that they need.  With our friends, we are stepping up our deterrence, resilience and teamwork, including in the cyber and space domains.

We're working with our host here in Singapore to enter a new phase in cyber defense cooperation.  We're partnering with Japan to deploy new sensors in space to better detect potentially threatening behaviors -- and exploring similar opportunities with other friends.

I'm especially pleased that Singapore has chosen to invest in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  Now, that's going to boost our collective capabilities -- and open up new opportunities for high-end combined training.

Integrated deterrence also means working with partners to deter coercion and aggression across the spectrum of conflict -- including in the so-called "grey zone" where the rights and livelihoods of the people in Southeast Asia are coming under stress.  That's why we're working to strengthen local capacity and to bolster maritime-domain awareness, so that nations can better protect their sovereignty -- as well as the fishing rights and the energy resources afforded them by international law.

And meanwhile, we're improving interoperability across our security network, and that includes more exercises and training.  In Japan, for example, we recently wrapped up an ambitious large-scale exercise in which U.S. and Japanese forces together conducted the first successful firing of a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System in Japan.

And we recently held the exercises known as the Pacific Vanguard and the Talisman Sabre off the coast of Australia together with Japan, Australia, and the Republic of Korea.  And that underscored our ability to carry out integrated high-end maritime operations with our allies.  I'm especially encouraged to see our friends building stronger security ties with one another, further reinforcing the array of partnerships that keeps aggression at bay.

And meanwhile, we're working with Taiwan to increase its own capabilities and to increase its readiness to deter threats and coercion -- upholding our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, and consistent with our one-China policy.

At the same time, we're moving to enhance our combined presence in the Indo-Pacific with other close partners and allies.  Take Britain's historic deployment of a carrier to the Pacific.  The HMS Queen Elizabeth is sailing through this region as a flagship of a multi-nation carrier strike group that includes a U.S. destroyer and a U.S. Marine Corps F-35 squadron.

All that brings me to the final way in which we can move forward together toward the future that this region deserves.  And I speak as a representative of an Indo-Pacific country -- with vital interests that are best served by a stable, open, and prosperous region.

Our strategic partnerships can carry us all closer to the historic common project of a free and open Pacific, at peace with itself and with the world -- a stronger, more stable regional order where countries resolve disputes amicably and uphold all the rights of all their citizens.

To bring that day closer, we are working -- we are working through old alliances, and through new partnerships, and through regional and multilateral channels -- from ASEAN to the Quad to the U.N. Security Council.

We've long sought to create space for our Indo-Pacific countries to realize their highest aspirations and safeguard the rights of their citizens.  And these joint efforts with our friends rely on more than just intersecting interests.  They draw strength from -- from common principles.

And that means a deep belief that countries must remain sovereign and free to chart their own destinies; a profound commitment to transparency, inclusion, and the rule of law; a dedication to freedom of the seas; a devotion to human rights, and human dignity, and human decency; an adherence to core international commitments; and an insistence that disputes will be solved peacefully.

Yet this region has witnessed actions that just don't line up with those shared principles.

Beijing's claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law.  That assertion treads on the sovereignty of states in the region.  We continue to support the region's coastal states in upholding their rights under international law.  And we remain committed to the treaty obligations that we have to Japan in the Senkaku Islands and to the Philippines in the South China Sea

Unfortunately, Beijing's unwillingness to resolve disputes peacefully and respect the rule of law isn't just occurring on the water.  We've also seen aggression against India -- destabilizing military activity and other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan -- and genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Now, these differences and disputes are real.  But the way that you manage them counts.

We will not flinch when our interests are threatened.  Yet we do not seek confrontation.

So let me be clear:  as secretary, I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China -- including stronger crisis communications with the People's Liberation Army.

You know, big powers need to model transparency and communication.  And so we hope that we can work together with Beijing on common challenges, especially the threat of climate change.

Yet even in times of competition, our enduring ties in Southeast Asia are bigger than just geopolitics.  As Prime Minister Lee has counseled, we are not asking countries in the region to choose between the United States and China.  In fact, many of our partnerships in the region are older than the People's Republic of China itself.

And that's why we're expanding our important work with countries throughout the Indo-Pacific and with ASEAN itself, a critical body that brings the region closer together -- offering everyone a voice, and building deeper habits of cooperation.

And I'll say that I am -- that personally I'm proud that my predecessors and I have attended every single meeting of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus -- a venue that is increasingly central to the region security architecture.

ASEAN is also showing its ability to lead on the region's most important issues.  And we applaud ASEAN for its efforts to end the tragic violence in Myanmar.  The Myanmar military's refusal to respect the -- the inalienable rights of the Burmese people, and to defend their basic well-being, is flatly unacceptable.

A military exists to serve its people -- not the other way around.  And so we call on the Myanmar military to adhere to the ASEAN five-point consensus and to forge a lasting peace.

As ASEAN plays its central role, we are also focusing on complementary mechanisms in the region.  I know how pleased President Biden was to host the first Quad Leaders' Summit in March.  And structures like the Quad make the region's security architecture even more durable.

We're also taking a leading role at the U.N. Security Council.  That includes enforcing its critical resolutions about nuclear dangers on the Korean Peninsula.

And we're taking a calibrated practical approach that leaves the door open to diplomacy with North Korea -- even while we maintain our readiness to deter aggression and to uphold our treaty commitments and the will of the Security Council.

Our partnerships draw strength from our shared belief and greater openness -- and our belief that people live best when they govern themselves.  Now, our democratic values are always easy to reach.  And the United States doesn't always get it right.  We've seen some painful lapses, like the unacceptable and frankly un-American discrimination that some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have endured in my country in recent months.

I believe that we're better than that -- far better than that.  But you know, we aren't trying to hide our mistakes.  When a democracy stumbles, everyone can see and hear it.  It's broadcast in loud and living color, and not hushed up by the state.

And our openness gives us the built-in ability to self-correct -- and to strive towards a more perfect union.  And when we come up short, when we stray from our Constitution's wisdom, we have a pretty good track record of owning up and trying to do better.

Even in times of challenge, our democracy is a powerful engine for its own renewal.  And we have embarked upon an ambitious program to "build back better" after the pandemic.  President Biden likes to tell the world leaders that he meets with that it's "never, ever, ever been a good bet to bet against America."

Ladies and gentlemen, what ties all of this together is one simple insight:  when we work hand-in-hand with our friends, we are stronger and more secure than we could ever be on our own.  And that's what guides my approach to this most important region as Secretary of Defense.

Our alliances are unmatched and unrivaled, and they are a source of strength and security.

Our countries share the shores of the Pacific.  But we also share an understanding of the power of partnership.

Geography has made us neighbor -- neighbors, as President Kennedy once put it.  But vision and values have made us friends.

As a fellow Indo-Pacific country, we believe that the next chapter in the story of this region can be an inspiring one -- a time where, as President Biden likes to say, hope and history rhyme.

So we stand together with you -- as your allies, your partners, and your friends.  Because we know that no one can go it alone.  And we are confident that together, we can build a brighter and better future for all of our children.

Thank you very much.


MODERATOR:  Very good.  Thank you for that, Mr. Secretary.

We'll now enter the question and answer phase of this evening's proceedings.  And I will take questions both from our online audience, where we have close to 1,000 people watching, and in here in the room.

And let me start with one of our online questions, which is from Ambassador Tommy Koh -- who couldn't join us here this evening but is known to many of us in this room.

And it touches on the question you raised in your speech about the relationship, Mr. Secretary, between ASEAN and the Quad.  So you described these as complementary mechanisms.  But Ambassador Koh asks, has the U.S. decided to give the Quad a higher priority than ASEAN and will this lead to the marginalization of ASEAN?

SEC. AUSTIN:  As you heard me say earlier, ASEAN is critical to this region and critical to the United States.  It -- it brings stability and peace to the region.  It has done remarkable things.

And you can expect that we will remain engaged with ASEAN as we have been in the past.  And you heard me say that, you know, I'm proud of the fact that my predecessors and I have made every Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus.  And we clearly value the goodness that ASEAN brings to the region, and the stability that it works to create.

And so we don't see the two -- the two organizations or entities competing with each other.  We see them as complimentary.

The goal is to -- is to work to -- to build greater stability and peace in the region and also to ensure that -- that we're working towards that rules-based order that -- that you heard me mention earlier.  Again, we'd like to see us continue to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

MODERATOR:  Very good.  And let me turn to a question from the room.  Lynn Kuok from the IISS.

Lynn, if you wouldn't mind putting your laptop down and -- and standing up so people can see you.

Q:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.  You focused a lot on partnerships today.  And I'd like to ask two questions regarding that.

First, you talked about -- well, first, the ability of the United States to forge strong partnerships in the region will depend, at least in part, on its ability to assuage concerns in the region that the U.S. is being unnecessarily combative in relation -- in relations to China.

Your assistant secretary once said before in testimony that the Trump administration was combative -- was -- was confrontational without being competitive.

How well do you think that that -- how well do you think the Biden administration has done in being competitive without being confrontational?  Tensions around Taiwan at decades-long high.  The Biden administration has also retained much of the policies of the Trump administration in -- in relations to China.  So first -- that's my first question.

On my second question, you'll be travelling from Singapore to Vietnam as well as to the Philippines.  How well do you think the framing of the geopolitical competition around authoritarian versus liberal states -- how well do you think that fares in terms of forging partnerships in Southeast Asia?  Do you think it's -- it's a framing that works well in the region?

Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN:  So -- and you can correct me if I get off track in terms answering your questions specifically.  I want to -- I think the first question was:  what -- what's focused on, whether or not we're competing with China or we're in contention with China, is that correct?

Q:  How well do you think you're doing with that?

SEC. AUSTIN:  How well do we think -- do I think?  I think we're doing a great job.  (Laughter.)

And quite -- quite frankly, from the very beginning, you've heard our president say that the type of relationship that we seek with China is not one of contention.

We compete necessarily because we're two great economic powers.  We both have impressive military might.  But we don't seek, you know, a conflict with China.  We recognize that we will compete.

We want to make sure that we deter conflict in every case, at every opportunity.  And we'll work with our allies and partners to make sure that we have the capacity and the capability that any adversary that would want to take us on -- along with our partners -- would be very, very discouraged to do that.

And I think we're doing a good job of that.  I think, you've seen us really reach out a lot more to engage our allies and partners and strengthen those relationships.  That's a big part of this.

Now, we're also making sure that we have -- we continue to have credible military capability, again, that would deter anyone that would want to take -- take us -- make the mistake of taking us on.

But this is a competition -- not just in the military realm.  It's a competition in the economic realm, in science and technology, and you name it.  Again, one that should not spur conflict.  But one that we recognize that there will be competition because we are two very large countries with extremely large economies.

In terms of how our allies and partners in Vietnam and other places view us, and how they look at the message that we bring to others -- we will always lead with our values.  That's really important to us.

And we will discuss those values with our friends and allies at -- at -- you know, everywhere we go.  And we don't make any bones about that.  And I think people realize that that's who we are as Americans.

MODERATOR:  Let me -- let me ask a question -- a few more questions from the online audience.

So one from Evan Laksmana, who's a researcher -- an Indonesian researcher.  You've discussed what the U.S. has been doing for the region, but what does the U.S. expect Southeast Asian states to do to make up their fair share of defending the shared interests of Indo-Pacific countries?

In other words, what sort of resources and efforts would you like to see Southeast Asian states give or invest to the collective defense of the Indo-Pacific?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, if you consider all the things that our allies and partners bring to the table in terms of capabilities in the cyber realm, capabilities -- you know, in terms of forces, they -- our allies and partners already bring significant capabilities.

Our goal is to make sure that we're working closely with allies and partners so that we -- so that we ensure that we have the right policies and procedures so that when the time comes, if the time ever comes -- and hopefully it never does -- that we can work together in a seamless fashion.

We would also hope that our allies and partners continue to work with us to ensure that, you know, the region remains a safe and open region that promotes commerce and that protects the sovereign rights of individual nations.

MODERATOR:  Let me -- let me take another question from the audience.  So I saw Charlie McCann's hand, so Charlie McCann from The Economist newspaper.

We'll just a microphone over to you, Charlie.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your remarks.  In your speech you applauded ASEAN efforts to end the conflict in Myanmar.

However, the junta has flatly ignored ASEAN's five-point consensus.  The violence continues.  It's not holding talks with the National Unity Government.

And three months after committing to appoint a special envoy, ASEAN has yet to do so.  Hasn't -- doesn't that suggest that ASEAN is not up to the task of resolving the conflict in Myanmar?

Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, first of all, we remain very concerned about the trajectory of events in Myanmar, as you heard me mention earlier.  We will continue to work without allies and partners in the region to encourage the military in Myanmar to move in the right direction, to release the civilians that it's holding as prisoners now.

And ASEAN obviously plays a key role -- or can play a key role.  We certainly will continue to encourage ASEAN to continue to work this issue.

But make no mistake.  This is a very difficult issue.  And it -- if it were easy to resolve, we -- it would have already been done.

But we applaud ASEAN for its efforts, and we certainly encourage ASEAN to continue to work at this along with other allies and partners.

MODERATOR:  Let me take another question from our online audience.

So this is one from Matteo Schattse), a question about the Philippines, which is where the secretary is going later on his trip.  How does the United States plan to save the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well this is something that we, again, will continue to work on with the leadership in the Philippines.

The Philippines are a very important country to us.  And we treasure their -- that -- that relationship, their partnership.  I think there are number of things that we have in common.

I -- and I look forward to having a discussion with the minister of defense and -- and the leadership about the potential of extending the agreement.  But -- but again, this is a thing that a work -- continues to be a work in progress.  And so far I think we're in a good place.  We'll continue to build upon the progress that we've made.

MODERATOR:  So a question from Euan Graham my colleague at the IISS, if we could have a microphone down here to the front.

Q:  Thank you.  You referenced already the British carrier strike group which sailed past Singapore just yesterday and is now in the South China Sea.  And I think appropriately referenced that in terms of it being, although British-led, multi-national in nature with a Dutch ship and also the U.S. participation.

In view of that, what's your prognosis for burden sharing in this part of the world?  And I'm thinking not just of far-flung and capable U.S. allies and partners that bring naval capability, but again to bring the focus back to Southeast Asia (on the onward ?) part of your itinerary here.

What can the smaller nations that do not necessarily have those capabilities do to offer in terms of access in a way that may make the U.S. Navy and military more -- a lot more generally sustainable and engaged?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, first of all, I -- I'm -- as you no doubt are, I'm excited about what we're seeing with -- with the interoperability that's been demonstrated between the U.K. and our forces as -- as we've made this journey from Europe to -- to here.  It's really been a successful endeavor and I look forward to more that, going forward.

We are -- we -- the U.K. and the United States are global nations with global interests.  And so as we look to balance our efforts in various parts of the world, we're not only looking to help each other in the Indo-Pacific, but we're looking to ensure that we help each other in other parts of the world.  As well as, if, for example, we focus a bit more here, are there areas that the U.K. can be more helpful in other parts of the world.

And I have a great relationship with the U.K. MOD.  And these are discussions that we've had a number of times.

And again, it's a -- it's a balancing act.  Resources are scarce, no matter which country you're talking about.  And again, we have interests around the globe and we want to make sure that we work together to address all of those interests.

There are things, obviously, that if nations are capable of providing resources and capability to help in this region, we -- we welcome that.  And we will facilitate that where possible.

But again, we have a global perspective and there's a -- there are a number of places we can help each other as we shift our stance.

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary, let me take another question from our online audience, this one on the question of Taiwan, which you raised in your speech.

This is from Catherine Heller in Taipei.  Secretary Austin, she asks, "You mentioned Taiwan in the context of China's unwillingness to settle disputes peacefully.  Do you see China's military measures of coercion towards Taiwan as the main problem, or are you worried that there is an actual risk of a Chinese attack on Taiwan?  Put another way, do you share the assessment of former INDOPACOM Commander Davidson that such an attack could occur as soon as 2027?"

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, I certainly wouldn't endeavor to provide any kind of intelligence assessment in this forum, but I would say that certainly, Mr. Xi has been vocal about -- about what his -- what his interests are going forward, and I think we have to -- we have to take him for his word.

Nobody -- no one wants to see a unilateral change to the status quo with respect to Taiwan.  And again, we are committed to supporting Taiwan and its capability to -- to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and our One China policy.  So you know, I don't want to hazard any -- any type of predictions.  I think that again, we'll stay focused on -- on helping Taiwan to defend itself, having the capabilities to -- to defend itself, going forward.

MODERATOR:  Very good.  We have many questions online, and I'm going to take just one more, and then I know the secretary has to leave us this evening.  So I wanted to take a -- a question on North Korea from my colleague in London, Robert Ward from the IISS.

North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile challenges continue to be a priority security challenge for the U.S., Japan and the Republic of Korea.  Given persistent strains between Tokyo and Seoul, what role do you think the U.S. should play to improve trilateral cooperation to boost the three countries' ability to deal with these contingencies?

SEC. AUSTIN:  You know, we're -- we're -- again, we've been pretty clear about our desire to see relations improve.  We've -- again, we're -- as -- as far as North Korea is concerned, we -- we're open to dialogue.  But having said that, we also remain focused on our commitment and our responsibility to -- to -- to help defend the Republic of Korea if and -- if -- if that -- if it ever comes to that.  So our readiness to -- to be able to live up to our commitments is -- is pretty important to us.  But again, we remain open to dialogue, so --

MODERATOR:  Mr. Secretary Austin, this draws our proceedings this evening to -- or near to a close, and so I wanted to thank you for a wide-ranging set of remarks, and also, for taking a series of robust questions from our audience in the room and at home.  The IISS looks forward to welcoming you to a number of further-such engagements, at least next June at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

For those of you watching at home or wherever you may be this evening, this ends the formal part of our proceedings, so thank you very much for joining us.  And -- and thank you again to Secretary Austin.

For those in the room, I'd invite you to stay in your seats while Secretary Austin first has a photograph taken, and then leaves the stage.  And -- and before that, I'd invite you all to give him a warm round of applause for talking to us here this evening.

SEC. AUSTIN:  Thank you.