U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuch Hagel spoke at the Shangri-La Dialogue (Asia Security Summit) in Singapore on May 31, 2014. He discussed resolving maritime disputes, building up regional architecture, and strengthening the U.S. military's partnerships with other defense forces. The conference is organized by International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Today, I want to highlight four broad security priorities that the United States, as a Pacific power, is advancing in partnership with friends and allies throughout the Asia-Pacific:
- First, encouraging the peaceful resolution of disputes; upholding principles including the freedom of navigation; and standing firm against coercion, intimidation, and aggression;
- Second, building a cooperative regional architecture based on international rules and norms;
- Third, enhancing the capabilities of our allies and partners to provide security for themselves and the region; and,
- Fourth, strengthening our 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. Nowhere is this more evident than in the South China Sea, the beating heart of the Asia-Pacific and a crossroads for the global economy.
China has called the South China Sea "a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation." And that's what it should be.
But in recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea. It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.
The United States has been clear and consistent. We take no position on competing territorial claims. But we firmly oppose any nation's use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims.
We also oppose any effort – by any nation – to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation – whether from military or civilian vessels, from countries big or small. The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.
We will uphold those principles. We made clear last November that the U.S. military would not abide by China's unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, including over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. And as President Obama clearly stated in Japan last month, the Senkaku Islands are under the mutual defense treaty with Japan.
All nations of the region, including China, have a choice: to unite, and recommit to a stable regional order, or to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that have benefitted millions of people throughout the Asia-Pacific, and billions around the world.
The United States will support efforts by any nation to lower tensions and peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with international law.
We all know that cooperation is possible. Last month, 21 nations signed the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea – an important naval safety protocol. ASEAN and China are negotiating a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea – and the United States encourages its early conclusion. Nations of the region have also agreed to joint energy exploration; this month, the Philippines and Indonesia resolved a longstanding maritime boundary dispute; and this week, Taiwan and the Philippines agreed to sign a new fisheries agreement.
China, too, has agreed to third-party dispute resolution in the World Trade Organization; peacefully resolved a maritime boundary dispute with Vietnam in 2000; and signed ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
For all our nations, the choices are clear, and the stakes are high. These stakes are not just about the sovereignty of rocky shoals and island reefs, or even the natural resources that surround them and lie beneath them. They are about sustaining the Asia-Pacific's rules-based order, which has enabled the people of this region to strengthen their security, allowing for progress and prosperity. That is the order the United States – working with our partners and allies – that is the order that has helped underwrite since the end of World War II. And it is the order we will continue to support – around the world, and here in the Asia-Pacific.
This rules-based order requires a strong, cooperative regional security architecture.