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Alliances, Partnerships Critical to U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, Mattis Says

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis delivers remarks during the first plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue 2018 June 2. The Shangri-La Dialogue, held annually by the independent think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is an inter-governmental security forum which is attended by defense ministers and delegates from more than 50 nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released)

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. treaty allies and other partners, America seeks to build an Indo-Pacific region where sovereignty and territorial integrity are safeguarded and the promise of freedom is fulfilled and prosperity prevails for all, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said today in Singapore.

Addressing the 2018 International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue, the secretary said the Indo-Pacific strategy stands in firm support of America’s recently released National Defense strategy.

“[The strategies] take a clear-eyed view of the strategic environment, and they recognize that competition among nations not only persists in the 21st century, in some regard it is intensifying,” Mattis said.

And both strategies affirm that the Indo-Pacific region is critical for America’s continued stability, security and prosperity, he added.

“In [America’s Indo-Pacific strategy], we see deepening alliances and partnerships as a priority. [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’] centrality remains vital and cooperation with China is welcome wherever possible,” the secretary said.

“So, make no mistake — America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay,” he noted.

“This is our priority theater; our interests and the regions are inexplicably intertwined,”Mattis said. “Our Indo-Pacific strategy makes significant security, economic and development investments.”

The U.S. strategy recognizes no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific, he said. “For those who want peace and self-determination, we all have shared responsibility to work together to build our shared future.”

Elements of Strategy Outlined

The secretary highlighted several themes of the strategy:

— Expanding attention on the maritime space: “The maritime commons is a global good, and the sea lanes of communication are the arteries of economic vitality for all,” he said.

“Our vision is to preserve that vitality by helping our partners to build up naval and law enforcement capabilities and capacities to improve monitoring and protection of maritime borders and interests,” he added.

— Interoperability: The United States recognizes a network of allies and partners is a force multiplier for peace, the secretary said. “Through our security cooperation, we are building closer relationships between our militaries and our economies, all of which contribute to enduring trust,” he added.

— Strengthening the rule of law, civil society and transparent governance: “This is the sunlight that exposes the malign influence that threatens sustainable economic development,” Mattis said.

— Private sector-led development: The United States recognizes the region’s need for greater investment, including infrastructure, he noted, adding, “We are reinvigorating our development and finance institutions to enable us to be better, more responsive partners.

“U.S. agencies will work more closely with regional economic partners to provide end-to-end solutions that not only build tangible products, but also transfer experience and American know-how so growth is high value and high quality, not empty promises and surrender of economic sovereignty,” he said.

U.S. Stands Ready

The United States stands ready to cooperate with all nations to achieve this vision, Mattis said.

“While a free and open Indo-Pacific is in all our interests, it will only be possible if we all pull together to uphold it,” he said.

“A generation from now, we will be judged on whether we successfully integrated rising powers while increasing economic prosperity, maintaining international cooperation based on agreed-upon rules [and] protecting fundamental rights of our peoples and avoiding conflict,” the secretary said.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy informs its relationship with China, he noted. “We are aware China will face an array of challenges and opportunities in coming years. We are prepared to support China’s choices if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in this dynamic region.”

China’s Policy

Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness of the U.S. strategy, Mattis said, adding that it calls into question China’s broader goals.

“The United States will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, [and] cooperation whenever possible will be the name of the game, and competing vigorously where we must,” he said.

“Of course, we recognize any sustainable Indo-Pacific order as a role for China, and at China’s invitation, I will travel to Beijing soon in an open, transparent approach, broadening and deepening the national dialogue between our two Pacific nations,” the secretary said.

As a Pacific nation, the United States remains committed to building a shared destiny with the Indo-Pacific region, he said, adding the nation offers strategic partnerships and not strategic dependence.

“Alongside our allies and partners, America remains committed to maintaining the region’s security, its stability and its economic prosperity — a view that transcends America’s political transitions, and will continue to enjoy Washington’s strong bipartisan support,” Mattis said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk onTwitter: @MoonCronkDoD)