By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, May 30, 2014 – The United States will continue to lead in the Asia-Pacific region, but the methods will change, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here.
Hagel spoke to the annual Asia Security Summit sponsored by the International Institute of Strategic Studies tonight U.S. time, tomorrow morning Singapore time. It was Hagel’s second trip to the summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, and his fifth trip to the region since becoming defense secretary.
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama laid out the next phase of America’s foreign policy, telling the audience at the U.S. Military Academy commencement that the United States will balance diplomacy, development assistance and military capabilities. A huge part of that effort will be the push to strengthen global partnerships and alliances. This is the heart of the rebalance to the Pacific, Hagel said.
“The rebalance is not a goal, promise, or a vision – it is a reality,” he said.
The secretary listed the strategy’s accomplishments in the past year, including holding a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, building partnerships with Vietnam and Malaysia, and visiting three treaty allies in the region: Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. The United States and the Philippines announced a new enhanced defense cooperation agreement, and there is progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, he said.
“Diplomatic, economic, and development initiatives are central to the rebalance, and to our commitment to help build and ensure a stable and prosperous region,” the secretary said. “But prosperity is inseparable from security, and the Department of Defense will continue to play a critical role in the rebalance, even as we navigate a challenging fiscal landscape.”
The Asia-Pacific is the region of potential in the 21st century, Hagel said, and the American rebalance is a recognition of that. “But even while advances in human rights, freedom, democracy, technology, and education are yielding better lives and futures for all people, and even as more nations are stepping forward to contribute to regional security, the Asia-Pacific is also confronting serious threats,” he added.
Territorial and maritime disputes in the South and East China seas, North Korea’s provocative behavior and its nuclear weapons and missile programs, the long-term challenge of climate change and natural disasters, and the destructive and destabilizing power of cyberattacks are just a few challenges in the region, the secretary said.
“Continued progress throughout the Asia-Pacific is achievable, but hardly inevitable,” he said. “The security and prosperity we have enjoyed for decades cannot be assured unless all our nations have the wisdom, vision, and will to work together to address these challenges.”
The United States will work with all responsible states to deal with these issues, Hagel said, and will encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes, uphold principles including the freedom of navigation and stand firm against coercion, intimidation, and aggression.
Also, he said, the United States will work to build a cooperative regional architecture based on international rules and norms, will enhance capabilities of allies and partners to provide security for themselves and the region, and will strengthen its own regional defense capabilities.
“One of the most critical tests facing the region is whether nations will choose to resolve disputes through diplomacy and well-established international rules and norms – or through intimidation and coercion,” he said.
The South China Sea is a prime example. The sea is “the beating heart of the Asia-Pacific and a crossroads for the global economy,” Hagel said, and China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims there.
The United States has been clear and consistent in response, Hagel noted. “We take no position on competing territorial claims,” he said. “But we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims. We also oppose any effort -- by any nation -- to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation, whether from military or civilian vessels [or] from countries big or small.”
Hagel noted that in November, he announced the U.S. military would not abide by China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea.
“All nations of the region, including China, have a choice: to unite, and recommit to a stable regional order, or, to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that has benefitted millions of people throughout the Asia-Pacific, and billions around the world,” he said. “The United States will support efforts by any nation to lower tensions and peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with international law.”
Diplomacy can work, the secretary said, and it has worked in the recent past as nations across the region negotiated territorial disputes without bloodshed, coercion or provocation.
“The choices are clear, and the stakes are high,” Hagel said. It’s not about a rocky island or even the oil beneath the sea, he said, but rather is about “sustaining the Asia-Pacific’s rules-based order, which has enabled the people of this region to strengthen their security, allowing for progress and prosperity.”
The secretary announced he is tasking Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, to host regional counterparts to discuss concrete ways to establish greater maritime security awareness and coordination.
The United States needs to work with China not only to resolve legal issues, but also to stop North Korea from a history of provocations and attacks that only get more serious as the country pursues nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, Hagel said.
“The U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue has a long way to go,” he added. “But I have been encouraged by the progress we have made, and continue to make. Our dialogue is becoming more direct and more constructive, getting at the real issues and delivering more results.
“As we expand this dialogue, the United States also supports a sustained and substantive exchange with China on cyber issues,” he continued. “Although China has announced a suspension of the U.S.-China Cyber Working Group, we will continue to raise cyber issues with our Chinese counterparts, because dialogue is essential for reducing the risk of miscalculation and escalation in cyberspace.”
The United States also remains committed to building the capacity of allies and partners in the region through about 130 exercises and engagements, and about 700 port visits annually.
“Next month, the United States will host its annual Rim of the Pacific exercise, the world’s largest maritime exercise, that will feature the first port visit by a New Zealand naval ship to Pearl Harbor [in Hawaii] in more than 30 years, and will include Chinese ships for the first time,” Hagel said.
This cooperative regional security plan will help to build trust and confidence across Asia, Hagel said.
“From Europe to Asia, America has led this effort for nearly seven decades,” he added, “and we are committed to maintaining our leadership in the 21st century.”