«The South China Sea is an area of immense economic and strategic importance. For centuries, it has been a major crossroads of international trade and ...»
Second and related to the expansion of our military capabilities and presence in the region is an enhanced tempo of military operations. From a multitude of exercises across the region, to freedom of navigation operations and presence operations, the Department of Defense continues to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows so that others can do the same.
Examples of this enhanced tempo include a persistent and scalable Command and Control Detachment in the Philippines, dual carrier operations in the Philippine Sea, and a deployed rotational air component to the Philippines that recently included five EA-18G (Growlers).
We’ve also completed a successful U.S.-Japan-India trilateral exercise MALABAR, and the Ronald Reagan Strike Group is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea this summer.
The third critical line of effort in the South China Sea entails enhancing our regional security network by building partner capacity, training, and exercises. A key facet of this has been our active engagement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which shares our 7 commitment to shared principles. We believe ASEAN should be at the center of the regional security architecture, which is why we have invested in ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus. And it’s not only principles—it’s action to back them up. We are deepening multilateral regional security architecture through the ADMM-Plus and its Experts Working Groups, through which we are pursuing practical initiatives and exercises to address challenges that affect us all more effectively.
Additionally, we are moving forward on the Maritime Security Initiative that the Secretary announced last year. This is a $425 million, five-year U.S. commitment to multilateral security cooperation that will help build a maritime security network in Southeast Asia to uphold our shared principles. In the Initiative’s first year, we’re helping the Philippines enhance its National Coast Watch Center and improving reconnaissance and maritime sensors; helping Vietnam train to develop future unmanned maritime capabilities; providing Indonesia and Malaysia with communications equipment and training; and working with Thailand on processing information at fusion centers.
We also continue to conduct several bilateral and multilateral exercises, such as BALIKATAN with the Philippines, which advance our efforts to strengthen our network and continue to build interoperability. The Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise includes 27 nations focused on building maritime cooperation, security, and disaster response. PACIFIC PATHWAYS builds partner capability and interoperability with Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The 22nd Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise focused on maritime security and interoperability with nine partner nations, and the 11th PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
In addition to building capacity and exercising together, we are also seeing Asia-Pacific countries come together on their own to strengthen bilateral and trilateral ties. For example, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia are coming together to counter maritime threats in coastal waters. We have also recently decided to hold additional U.S.-Japan-Australia trilateral exercises. And Indonesia has proposed trilateral joint maritime patrols with Malaysia and the Philippines, including counter-piracy patrols in the Sulu Sea. The United States welcomes and 8 encourages these burgeoning partnerships among like-minded partners who share our vision of a principled regional order. By networking security together, we believe we strengthen the ability of all countries to enjoy stability and prosperity in a dynamic region.
This brings us to the final line of effort in the South China Sea I would like to highlight, which is to engage China directly in order to reduce risk. As Secretary of Defense Carter described in his speech in Singapore, China has an important role to play in the region, and we welcome a China that plays a responsible role in the region’s principled security network. We know China’s inclusion makes for a stronger network and a more stable, secure, and prosperous region.
Therefore we consistently encourage China to take actions that uphold—and do not undercut— the shared principles that have served so many in the Asia-Pacific region so well. We seek to keep lines of communication with China open, to improve our cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and to speak candidly when we disagree.
Our military-to-military relationship with China is an important aspect of our broader bilateral relationship. Where our interests converge, we seek to cooperate responsibly and effectively.
Where our interests diverge, we seek to reduce disagreements when possible and otherwise attempt to reduce the risk of misunderstanding or miscalculation.
This has been an important feature of our diplomacy in the South China Sea: through a series of robust diplomatic engagements with China this year, we have been able to manage the real and complex differences between us while broadening our cooperation. Although a great deal of attention has been placed on China’s participation in RIMPAC, I would like to highlight briefly the confidence building measures (CBMs) that we have reached with China in recent years.
Through these CBMs and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement process we have set standards for encounters between ships and aircraft that are in accordance with international rules and norms, reduced the occurrence of unsafe and unprofessional encounters, and established mechanisms to manage situations where friction occurs.
LOOKING AHEADThese lines of effort have set the stage for our engagements following the upcoming decision from the UN Arbitral Tribunal. Although I will not speculate on what decision the Tribunal will issue, I will reiterate our strong support for the rule of law, the binding nature of this decision on the parties, and the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes. We urge both parties to comply with the ruling and urge all claimants to avoid provocative actions or statements.
From the perspective of the Department of Defense, we will continue to do what we always do.
We will provide critical support for diplomacy by providing a credible deterrent against the use of force, in order to support the emergence of favorable conditions for claimants to peacefully resolve their disputes. We will continue to defend ourselves, our allies, our interests, and our principles. More broadly, DoD will continue to work with our allies and partners to build a future where every country in the region is free to make its own choices free from coercion where disputes are resolved peacefully, and where freedoms of navigation and overflight are respected.
Mr. Chairmen, Ranking Members, Distinguished Members of the Committees, the upcoming UN Arbitral Tribunal ruling provides an opportunity for the region to stand firm in its enduring commitments to a principled order in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world. And it is an opportunity for us to reconfirm our commitment to work with the region to ensure a principled future—one in which all people have the opportunity to live in peace and prosperity.