The secretary spoke at the John McCain Institute in Tempe, Arizona, as the first part of a trip that takes him to Japan, South Korea and Hawaii.
The secretary’s speech aimed to push for quick passage of the Trade Promotion Authority for President Barack Obama, “so that he can ensure America gets the best deal in a historic new trade agreement with eleven other Asia-Pacific countries: the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Carter stressed that while the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region has a military component, it is a whole-of-government approach. Since World War II, the United States has underwritten security in the region. This has allowed nations like Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China to develop and thrive.
America is a Pacific power and will remain one, Carter said, noting that the United States will continue to engage with nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Carter said his stops in Japan and South Korea highlight the importance of America’s decades-old alliances with both countries.
But the United States is doing more, he added. The newest and most capable weapons systems will go first to the region. When movements are completed, he said, 60 percent of the U.S. fleet will be in the Pacific-Indian Ocean area. U.S. Marines already have a rotational presence in Australia, Carter said, and U.S. and Filipino authorities are working on ways to strengthen military-to-military cooperation.
To secure its enduring interests in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States is “changing, too, with our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,” Carter said.
The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing economic growth, and the United States must have access to those markets, the secretary said. He noted that more than half of the Earth’s population will live in the region by 2050. Over the next 15 years, he added, there will be rapid middle-class growth across the Asia-Pacific, to the point that it will make up “60 percent of global middle-class consumption.”
Democracies Increase in Asia-Pacific Region
The American presence has helped shape the region, said Carter, noting there’s been a fourfold increase in the number of democracies in the region.
“Following our lead, countries across the Asia-Pacific have also embraced free and open commerce, fidelity to the rule of law, and a rules-based international order,” the secretary said.
American strengths in security, economy and diplomacy “are multiplied by America’s unrivaled network of allies and partners — nations both in the region and around the world who seek our friendship, not because of our power alone or through coercion, but because of the gravitational pull of our ideals, values, and goodwill,” Carter said. “These ties, tended to with careful diplomacy, are what make America’s global strength so unique throughout history and today.”
The secretary said he wants to expand the reach of these alliances and for America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific region to do more together. Carter said the United States is working with Japan and South Korea to build an information-sharing arrangement, adding that the United States is working with Australia and Japan to strengthen maritime security.
And the United States is working with India, Carter said.
“In January, we agreed to an update of our bilateral Defense Framework — the first update in 10 years,” he said. “It will open up new ways to expand the U.S.-India relationship, such as on maritime security, and new opportunities to cooperate on high-end technologies, for example, jet engines and aircraft carrier design.”
China’s Influence in the Asia-Pacific Region
Carter then discussed China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific.
“Some people would have you believe that China will displace America in the Asia-Pacific or that its economic growth will somehow squeeze out opportunities,” he said. “But I reject the zero-sum thinking that China’s gain is our loss because there is another scenario in which everyone wins — and it is a continuation of the decades of peace and stability anchored by a strong American role, in which all Asia-Pacific countries continue to rise and prosper. This is the scenario we seek in the ongoing rebalance.”
Yet, many observers are concerned about the scope of China’s military modernization efforts, China’s actions in cyberspace, and Chinese behavior in the East and South China Seas, the secretary said.
“These are concerns we raise with our Chinese counterparts on a regular basis,” he said.
Carter then turned to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “As secretary of defense, I never forget that our military strength ultimately rests on the foundation of our vibrant, unmatched and growing economy,” he said. “[The Trans-Pacific Partnership] is so important because of its enormous promise for jobs and growth across our nation’s economy. It is expected to increase U.S. exports by $125 billion in the next decade, supporting high-quality jobs.”
While good for jobs, the partnership also makes strategic sense, the secretary said.
“In terms of our rebalance in the broadest sense, passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier,” Carter said. “TPP would deepen our alliances and partnerships abroad and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific. And it would help us promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.”