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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Carter and Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen at the Ministry of Defense in Bukit Batok, Singapore

June 3, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

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(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Please do. 

SINGAPORE DEFENSE MINISTER NG ENG HEN:  Well, I'm very delighted that Secretary Ash Carter is here for the Shangri-La dialogue.  I hosted him breakfast today and two others, I brought him to visit our imagery analyst team which is the formation in which the IATs have been deployed in Kuwait against the anti-ISIS Counter Terrorism Groups.  

Secretary Carter invited me kindly to take a flight on the P-8 and it was a good experience.  

Let me just say some general remarks and then pass it on to Secretary Carter.  I would view the defense relations between Singapore and the U.S. as very strong.  As you know in the last 25 years since the signing of the MOU in 1990, and again the Strategic Framework Agreement in 2005, as well as last year in celebration of our 50th diplomatic anniversary, we signed - both of us signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.  

These agreements over the last 25 years underscore Singapore's belief that the U.S. presence in our region has contributed - and will continue to contribute greatly to our stability in this region.  And this was in the context which in recent years the LCSs, the Littoral Combat Ships as well as the P-8 that we've deployed in rotations in Singapore.  

We took a flight around Singapore and I would say that it underscores I think our shared belief that the waters around this region are critical. Thirteen million barrels of oil flow through the Straight of Malacca, second only to the Strait of Hormuz.  On the eastern side of the South China Sea, it sees equal if not greater traffic.  

Any instability in these critical sea lines of communication will be an enormous impact, not only in the economy and ASEAN but globally.  So it underscores our shared belief in maritime security, and again, I'm extremely pleased that Secretary Carter this year called the Shangri-La dialogue.  And I thank him again for the invitation to plan the meetings.  

Thank you.  

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you very much.  

This is my good friend and host here, and I'm very grateful.  It's wonderful to see you again.  It's wonderful to be hosted by you here in Singapore, and wonderful to see some of the host team of our military personnel here.  

We are so grateful, the United States is now and has been for decades to have as capable and as principle security partners as Singapore.  One that stands as we do for cooperation and inclusiveness, and principle in the conduct of international affairs.  One that is among the countries of the world that embody those principles.  We have no better friend than Singapore.  So I'm grateful for that.  

Before I say anything about our visit here, I need to however reflect on the sad fact that yesterday, Thursday, the United States was a tough day for the U.S. military.  A Navy Blue Angel, an F-18 crashed in Tennessee.  Unfortunately, the pilot was lost in that incident.  

And down at Fort Hood, a troop carrier overturned and there were casualties also in that incident.  I can't confirm at the moment the number that were killed and the number that were wounded.  And we would refer all of you for more details to Fort Hood.  But I just did want to signify while I was here that our hearts and thoughts are with the family of those who lost.  

And with respect to the fact that both of these were lost as safety issues in training, we're going to make sure that we learn lessons that we can from the investigations we conduct after these incidents.  And that we take accidents in the future to prevent such accidents and keep our people safe.  

Once again, thank you Minister Hen for having me here.  You're right 2016 is the 50th  anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Singapore.  

When we met in December together in Washington, the minister and I signed the, as he had mentioned, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was yet another step in the long and enduring cooperation between the United States and Singapore in Security affairs.  That agreement inaugurated the rotational deployment, as he noted the P-8s here similar in structure  in the way the combat system ships are rotated.  We're very grateful for that.  

Their purpose is of course maritime security and there's no country in - and no geography in the world that compares to Singapore for it's - the importance it has in the field of maritime security, which all of our countries everywhere in the world depend on.  So we're grateful to have a partner here in that field.  

When we flew over the Strait of Malacca which is always miraculous to me to see just the density of international shipping flags from all countries, all sorts of origins, all sorts of destinations.  A great sign of the global commons at work, which is one of the things that we try to protect with our militaries.  

I should say that the P-8 is only one example of Singapore's wonderful hospitality to us.  There are more than 100 U.S. Navy ships and more than 800 U.S. aircraft transit through Singapore every year.  We're very grateful of that.  

And of course, that's just the beginning.  We've collaborated in many areas; counter-terrorism which has been mentioned, including counter- ISIL, where Singapore plays an important role.  And the Minister explained how I had the opportunity to visit one of the units that has made a very significant contribution to the counter-ISIL campaign.  And I'm grateful for the opportunity to do that.  

But initially in counter-terrorism, there is piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, maritime security, which I already mentioned, cyber-security, and other areas.  So it's very wide ranging cooperation.  We're very grateful to it.  

I look forward - I should say also - to discussing these matters further with the Prime Minister this afternoon.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to meet with him.  And of course, we the United States look forward to welcoming him to Washington shortly.  

Thank you. 

(APPLAUSE)

Q:  (Inaudible)  How important is it for the United States to boost military cooperation with regional countries in the South China Sea?  Question, and does boosting that cooperation perhaps bear our China's contention of U.S. cyber-militarizing the dispute, and using it to increase its own military footprint in the region?  

SEC. CARTER:  Well, there are a lots of reasons to boost cooperation among the countries of the Asia-Pacific region.  

And our cooperation in Singapore which is just one example of that provides the reasons for that, I just gave them.  They range from counter-terrorism to counter-piracy.  All of these common interests that we as countries share, so it does make sense for us all to do more together.

And with respect to the second part of your question, I'd just say two things.  One is, this is a long standing practice of the United States, and so, this is something that is well known in the region and well understood.  And the other thing is that the American approach to - and this is shared by most countries in the region, is an inclusive one in which everyone participates in the collective defense of our peoples from today's threats.  

That's the ideal.  That's the objective of the U.S. military presence out there.  It's been that way for decades and it will be that way for decades.  It's based upon principle, and non-exclusion, cooperation, and common interest.  

Q:  (Inaudible)  How do you think the world thinks about to further boost cooperation through China and the U.S. given how those (inaudible) are friends with all parties, and the U.S. continues it's presence in this part of the world is often seen by China as trying to contain China?  So how do you think it's going to play out?  

SEC. CARTER:  Well, there's a lot more than I think of what we can do together, including with China and Singapore.  

And our view is, the more everyone works together, the better.  So activities that are not just from between one country and another but between - among three countries, or more countries, or all countries; like ASEAN plus others around here.  That's all very welcomed to the United States and that's the way we've been doing things for a long time. 

It's not directed at anyone, including China.  It is inclusive of everyone, including China.  And we can't -- we can only suggest that China participate.  But we do stand for the principle of cooperation and a rules-based order, and standing up for the rule of law together.

And that's the basis of the U.S. presence in this region, has been the basis for decades.  And it has been a contributor to the stability of Asia, which has allowed the Asian miracle of economic and human prosperity that we've witnessed over the last few decades, through that climate -- which the United States contributed to, and other countries contributed to as well.

That climate of peace and stability is very important, because that's essential to continuing the human progress that is so wonderfully exemplified by this very city-state that we're in today.

MINISTER HEN:  I'll just add three short ones.

Singapore's position is very clear, vis-a-vis the U.S. presence in this region.  U.S. presence as preeminent power in -- globally in this region for -- (inaudible) -- for the last seven decades has provided conditions of stability.

It has always been here, it's here -- and for peace, for the foreseeable future will continue to be a global power.

At the same time, you recognize that situations change, China is rising.  And all of us agree it's not a zero-sum game.  There is no question of containment.  The question is, how do you accommodate a security architecture for both a resident power and a rising power?

And our -- our meeting not only Singapore, but ASEAN, and I think also the Plus partners in the ASEAN Plus is that there has to be an inclusive architecture, and there has to be clear rules of the road, where all of us understand how we resolve disputes, whether we have the political will to resolve disputes.

Finally, on -- a direct response here, how does Singapore play a role?  We have no fantasies or delusions about the size of our influence.  What we can do is try to speak truth to power, to say what we see as accommodating for both interests -- both interests of small and large countries, and how we can continue to play, to maintain stability in this region.  And we do it through a various foray, including the Shangri-La Dialogue, which refined, I think is very beneficial in discussing the issues and the problems that we have.

STAFF:  -- (Inaudible) -- from the Wall Street Journal.

Q:  Secretary Carter, as we're here today, the Kurdish and Arab offensive against the city of Manbij, Syria is still underway.

And you said yesterday, that in addition to the foreign fighter flow issue, the other reason that this offensive is crucial is that there is external plotting that's going on from Manbij against U.S., Europe and Turkey.  Could you elaborate on the nature of that body, why it's taking place in Manbij now, as opposed to Raqqa or Mosul?  And -- and just give us a sense of the -- sort of the civic nature of the threat.

SEC. CARTER:  It has been going on for some time in Manbij, as well as Raqqa.

Obviously, Raqqa has been a major focus of our campaign, because it is the self-declared capital of the self-declared state, based upon this ideology, which will be defeated by the rest of the world.

And so, it's not different in kind from the kind of thing that goes on in Raqqa.  But there are people there, and I can't go into any details, who aspire to inspiring or even directing plots outside of Syria.  And that, along with the fact that is, as you mentioned, a transit hub for foreign fighter flows in both directions is a reason, why it’s  an important objective there.

We’re pleased towork with local forces, which these are, who basically want to take back their own territory from ISIL, which is -- is tyrannizing it.  And we're supporting them very strongly, and they're making progress.

Q:  And did any evidence of --

STAFF:  Sir, we have time for one more -- (inaudible).

MINISTER HEN:  Let me just add to Secretary Carter's point, the threat of terrorism is global, and that there are people within Iraq and Syria plotting in Iraq and Syria against their home countries.

As you know, the Jakarta attack, which occurred recently, was purportedly masterminded by Indonesian in -- terrorists Iraq and Syria.  And in the last ADMM-Plus, as well as the recent ASEAN defense minister's meeting, there was a reason for the joint declaration.

The problem of terrorism is a global one.

STAFF:  I have a question from Bob Burns.

Q:  I'm going to ask a question to you, Secretary Carter.

A few minutes ago, you said with regard to China, "We can only suggest that China participate."  Wondering whether you were referring a sense of participating in what?

And then, I wanted to ask to Minister Hen.  Has Singapore attempt to form or conduct joint air patrols with the U.S.?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, in a cooperative, inclusive and principled network security here -- and that's true not only of China, but that's true of any country.

Countries make their own choices based upon their own interests.  And their -- their circumstances change over time, as Singapore's has and -- (inaudible) -- risen.

The minister mentioned that China is rising, Japan is rising, India is rising.  There are a number of countries.  And in a sense, all of the countries of Asia are rising together, and they all make their own choices.

And so, I was simply saying that China, like other countries, will make its own choices.  Obviously, we hope it makes a choice to one that is cooperative with the system of security that has served this region so well for so long.

Q:  -- (Inaudible) -- exercise it?

SEC. CARTER:  Sure, yes.  And of course, China will be participating in RIMPAC.  That's a perfect example.  

That -- and China and a number of other countries.  That's a perfect example of countries working together, their militaries working together for common purpose.  And we'd like to see more of that.

MINISTER HEN:  Well, let me give you a practical answer for a theoretical question.

Singapore believes that in global commons critical waterways that we ought to do our part.

And if you remember the Straits of Malacca, was classified the same risk as it was on risk by lawyers, because of piracy.  To address that, we enunciated a number of principles, actually, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2005.  I think then Prime Minister Najibwas a defense minister.  That the -- (inaudible) -- states should be primarily responsible, that user states could contribute, that it would not go against the sovereignty of the policies in the process.

And that's how we are joint patrols.  Eyes in the Sky, or Straits of Malacca.  Joint patrols on water.  And as a result, which piracy was a problem addressed, and it was declassified.

That is the same reason, the same raison d'etre, that we are in the Gulf of Aden, that we have to come together to cooperate, to preserve and protect our global commons.  And I think that would apply to the Straits of Malacca, or South China Sea, or any other water body that is critical for global commerce.

STAFF:  Thanks, everyone.

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.