Defense Secretary Mattis in Asia: The Singapore Speech

By defense.Info Media Team

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis attended and made a speech to the attendees to the 2018 International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 1, 2018.

That speech follows:

Today I come to share the Trump administration’s whole-of-government Indo-Pacific strategy which espouses the shared principles that underpin a free-and-open Indo Pacific.

For as Prime Minister Modi reflected last night, a commitment to common values must be a foundation or even the foundation upon which we build a shared destiny.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with India, ASEAN and our treaty allies and other partners, America seeks to build an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are safeguarded –the promise of freedom fulfilled and prosperity prevails for all.

In firm support of this vision, America’s recently-released national security and national defense strategies express the Trump administration’s principled realism.  They take a clear-eyed view of the strategic environment and they recognize that competition among nations not only persists in the 21st-century, in some regard it is intensifying.

Both strategies affirm the Indo Pacific as critical for America’s continued stability, security, and prosperity.  Americas Indo-Pacific strategy is a subset of our broader security strategy, codifying our principles as America continues to look West.  In it we see deepening alliances and partnerships as a priority, ASEAN’s centrality remains vital, and cooperation with China is welcome wherever possible.  And while we explore new opportunities for meaningful multilateral cooperation, we will deepen our engagement with existing regional mechanisms at the same time.

In the early years of our republic President Thomas Jefferson sought to establish America’s presence in the Pacific Northwest, the part of the country where I later grew up.  President Jefferson anticipated this coastal region of America would become a gateway to the Pacific and open up vast opportunities for increased trade and commerce.  America has expanded its engagement and deepened its connectivity across the region ever since.

So, make no mistake, America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay.  This is our priority theater, our interests, and the regions are inextricably intertwined.  Our Indo-Pacific strategy makes significant security, economic, and development investments, ones that demonstrate our commitment to allies and partners in support of our vision of a safe, secure, prosperous, and free Indo-Pacific based on shared principles with those nations, large and small.

Ones who believe their future lies in respect for sovereignty and independence of every nation, no matter its size, and freedom for all nations wishing to transit international waters and airspace, in peaceful dispute resolution without coercion, in free, fair, and reciprocal trade and investment, and in adherence to international rules and norms that have provided this region with relative peace and growing prosperity for the last decades.

To these principles, America is true in both word and deed.  In our economics, we seek fair competition.  We do not practice predatory economics, and we stand consistent with our principles.  The U.S. strategy recognizes no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific.

For those who want peace and self-determination, we all have shared responsibility to work together to build our shared future.  As we look to that future, our Indo-Pacific strategy will bring to bear U.S. strengths and advantages, reinvigorating areas of underinvestment.

This morning, I’d like to highlight several themes of our strategy.  First, expanding attention on the maritime space.  The maritime commons is a global good, and sea lanes of communication are the arteries of economic vitality for all.  Our vision is to preserve that vitality by helping our partners build up naval and law enforcement capabilities and capacities to improve monitoring and protection of maritime orders and interests.

Second, interoperability.  We recognize that a network of allies and partners is a force multiplier for peace.  Therefore, we will ensure that our military is able to more easily integrate with others.  This applies to both hardware and software by promoting financing and sales of cutting-edge U.S. defense equipment to security partners at opening the aperture of U.S. professional military education to more Indo-Pacific military noncommissioned officers and officers.

Through our security cooperation, we are building closer relationships between our militaries and our economies, all of which contributes to enduring trust.

The third theme is strengthening the rule of law, civil society, and transparent governance.  This is the sunlight that exposes the malign influence that threatens to stain all economic development.  Our defense engagements reinforce this theme, whether our professional military education or combined military exercises, or the day to day interactions between our soldiers, sailers, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen and the armed forces from across the region.

A fourth theme is the private sector-led economic development.  The United States recognizes the region’s need for greater investment, including in infrastructure.  We are invigorating our development and finance institutions to enable us to be better, more responsive partners.

U.S. agencies will work more closely with regional economic partners to provide end-to-end solutions that not only build tangible products, but also transfer experience and American know-how so growth is high value and high quality.  Not empty promises and surrender of economic sovereignty.

The U.S. stands ready to cooperate with all nations to achieve this vision.  While a free and open Indo-Pacific is in all our interests, it will only be possible if we all pull together to uphold it.  To protect shared principles, we will continue partnering with the existing regional institutions.

Central among these, of course, is ASEAN and the institutions it created, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus, and the East Asia Summit, as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, and trilateral and multilateral mechanisms of like-minded partners.

A central element of our strategy is strengthening of our alliances and partnerships in terms of mutual benefit and trusted relationships.  We are committed to working by, with, and through allies and partners to address common challenges, to enhance shared capabilities, to increase defense investment where appropriate, to improve interoperability, to streamline information sharing, and to build networks of capable and like-minded partners.

In Northeast Asia, the dynamic security environment continues to underscore the importance of our robust alliance and partner relationships.  On the Korean Peninsula, we hold the line with our ally, supporting our diplomats who lead this effort.  Our objective remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible nuclear — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the international community is in alignment here, as evidenced by multiple unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Beyond North Korea, we are focused on modernizing our alliance with both the Republic of Korea and Japan, transforming these critical alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The Department of Defense remains steadfastly committed to working with Taiwan to provide the defense articles and services necessary to maintain sufficient self-defense consistent with our obligation set out in our Taiwan Relations Act.  We oppose all unilateral efforts to alter the status quo, and will continue to insist any resolution of differences accord with the will of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In Southeast Asia, we have reinvigorated our longstanding alliances with the Philippines and Thailand while bolstering our enduring partnership with Singapore.  At the same time, we are seeking to develop new partnerships with pivotal players across the region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, where we have made historic progress based on shared interest and mutual respect.

We continue to support ASEAN centrality in the regional security architecture, and seek to further empower it.  The more ASEAN speaks with one voice, the better we can maintain a region free from coercion, one that lives by respect for international law.

In Oceana, our alliances and partnerships are based not only on common security interests, but also on deeply shared values and a long history of shared sacrifice.  Australia remains one of our strongest allies, and this year we celebrate our first 100 years of (mateship ?).  We are also revitalizing our defense partnership with New Zealand, and we’ve modernized these key alliances and partnerships to ensure that they are as relevant to the security challenges of this century as they were to the last.

Our strategy also recognizes the importance of the Pacific Islands, America’s gateway to the Indo-Pacific, and a region where we are stepping up our engagement.

The president’s budget made good on our long-overdue promise, to fund our compact of association with Palau, and this is just a down payment on the initiatives to come in this important part of the world.

In South Asia we are strengthening our partnerships, particularly with India.  Prime Minister Modi’s remarks last evening underscored India’s role as a leader and responsible steward in the Indo-Pacific region.

The U.S. values the role India can play in regional and global security, and we view the U.S.-India relationship as a natural partnership between the world’s two largest democracies, based on a convergence of strategic interests, shared values, and respect for a rule-based international order.

Our regional cooperation is growing in a range of areas, consistent with these shared objectives.  Our partnership extends beyond the Indo-Pacific region, and we welcome India’s continued significant contributions to stability reconstruction in Afghanistan.

We’re also increasing our engagement with other Pacific allies, such as the United Kingdom, France and Canada, with whom we share enduring interests in the region.

A generation from now, we will be judged on whether we successfully integrated rising powers, while increasing economic prosperity, maintaining international cooperation, based on agreed-upon rules and norms, protecting fundamental rights of our peoples and avoiding conflict.

Our Indo-Pacific strategy informs our relationship with China.  We are aware China will face an array of challenges and opportunities in coming years.  We are prepared to support China’s choices, if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in this dynamic region.

Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness of our strategy.  It promotes — what our strategy promotes, it calls into question China’s broader goals.  China’s militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island.

Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion.  China’s militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to President Xi’s 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this.

For these reasons, and as initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, last week we disinvited the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, as China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principals and the purposes of the RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest Naval exercise, and exercise in which transparency and cooperation are hallmarks.

To be clear, we do not ask any country to choose between the United States and China, because a friend does not demand you choose among them.  China should and does have a voice in shaping the international system, and all of China’s neighbors have a voice in shaping China’s role.  If the U.S. will continue to pursue a constructive results oriented relationship with China, cooperation whenever possible, will be the name of the game and competing vigorously where we must.

Of course, we recognize any sustainable Indo-Pacific order, as a role for China, and at China’s invitation, I will travel to Beijing soon, in our open transparent approach to broadening and deepening the national dialogue between our two Pacific nations.

I will end as I began.  As a Pacific nation, the United States remains committed to building a shared destiny with this region.  The U.S. offers strategic partnerships, not strategic dependence.  Alongside our allies and partners, America remains committed to maintaining the region’s security, its stability and its economic prosperity, a view that transcends America’s political transitions, and we’ll continue to enjoy Washington’s strong bipartisan support.

For as, President Trump said, in Da Nang, we will never ask our partners to surrender their sovereignty or intellectual property.  We don’t dream of domination.  Working together on basis of shared principals, we can create a future that provides peace, prosperity, and security for all, a constellation of nations, each in its own bright star, satellites to none.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and I look forward to your questions.