By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2015 – America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is a continuation of its pivotal role over the past 70 years in helping ensure prosperity in the region, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday.
Speaking to reporters as he departed Hawaii during his second visit to the region, Carter is on a 10-day international trip that will also take him to Singapore, Vietnam and India, focusing on trust-building, addressing regional challenges and further developing a strong regional security architecture in Southeast Asia.
Fundamental Importance of Region
Carter said the Asia-Pacific region is of fundamental importance to the future of America and the global community. Half of the planet’s population lives in the Asia-Pacific region, he said, and half of the global economy is generated there.
While it’s not a region that’s in the headlines all the time because of its fundamental importance, Carter said that is because of the security role the U.S. has played there for the last 70 years.
“That role and the continuation of that role is the basic theme of this trip,” he said, “and will be the basic theme of the speech I make in a day-and-a-half at the Shangri-La Dialogue.”
The defense secretary alluded to his upcoming speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which is a key element of the emerging regional security architecture and a forum where the Asia-Pacific’s defense ministers engage in discussion aimed at building confidence and fostering practical security cooperation.
Carter said he was at the very first of these meetings which the International Institute for Strategic Studies convened in 2002, with “the idea being to be an Asia-Pacific analog to the Munich Security Conference that’s held in early February every year.”
The defense secretary noted a congressional delegation will attend, led by U.S. Sen. John McCain, whom he lauded for his “expertise” and having “more depth of knowledge and time spent in this region that just about anybody in Washington.”
“The theme of my remarks will be the long-standing and to-be-continued, pivotal American role in ensuring that the Asia-Pacific is a region in which everybody gets to rise,” he said.
“Everybody rises, everybody wins,” Carter said. “That’s been the history of 70 years -- first Japan’s economic miracle, then South Korea, Taiwan, then Southeast Asia. Today, China and India.”
Purpose of U.S. Rebalance
Carter said a “system of inclusion and attention to principle” have kept the peace and enabled prosperity in that part of the world.
“It is in that climate, everyone has gotten to rise,” he said. “Everyone has gotten to prosper, and in a nutshell, the purpose of American strategy and the purpose of the American rebalance, which is a part of the military part of the rebalance strategy, is to keep that going.”
According to Carter, maritime security is an important dimension, although the region is “not exclusively but importantly” a maritime theater. During the course of the trip, he said, there will be opportunities to see the “sheer scale of trade” that passes through the area in places such as the Strait of Malacca.
Carter noted it is of “incredible importance” to all parties in the region to have, as they have for 70 years, freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, and peaceful use of the commons.
The defense secretary responded to a question of how the U.S. will reassure China its rebalance to the region is not an act of aggression.
“The American approach, for 70 years, has been one which is, first of all, grounded in the values of participation by everyone, and security and prosperity for everyone,” he said. “So that is what the United States has stood for in the region.”
What the rebalance is about, Carter said, is basically helping to keep a security system -- not a purely American one, but one of friends, allies and inclusiveness -- going, which includes China.
Carter noted China has been invited to joint military exercises, and “we have very important ties … I hope we’re able to strengthen between our military and the Chinese military.”
“We work with the Chinese military,” he said, “along with lots of other militaries in the region on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief.”
Partnership in Asia-Pacific Region
Carter said the multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in Nepal following the destruction wrought by a magnitude-7.8 earthquake serve as an example of partnership in the region.
That was a situation, he said, where many countries -- including China -- trained with the U.S. for those types of circumstances with many of them operating U.S. equipment.
“Whether it’s refugees and trafficking, natural disasters, counternarcotics, [or] counterterrorism,” Carter said, “there are lots of things that plague this region of the world like they do others.”
He added, “Our system and our approach has always been one that is inclusive, and that’s when I say what we stand for is a system in which everybody wins.”
That’s not a hegemonic system, but a system in which everybody wins and everybody participates, Carter said.