30 May 14. 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 an