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Hagel In Malaysia

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the ASEAN meeting in Brunei, Aug. 28, 2013.

The United States is committed to reinvigorating and reshaping its relations with countries in Southeast Asia.

The United States is committed to reinvigorating and reshaping its relations with countries in Southeast Asia. As President Barack Obama has made clear, the United States must not only rebalance toward the Asia Pacific region, it must also rebalance within the Asia Pacific region to reflect Southeast Asia's emerging prominence and importance.

This rebalance consists of new diplomatic initiatives, including joining the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, holding annual ASEAN-U.S. leaders' meetings, joining the East Asia Summit, establishing a stand-alone permanent mission to ASEAN, making the United States the first non-ASEAN country to do so, and appointing a resident ambassador to ASEAN.

Moreover, the United States believes that robust ties with ASEAN countries are very important to America's economic growth. Last November, President Obama and the 10 ASEAN leaders launched the expanded economic engagement initiative, which is helping boost trade and investment and creating new business opportunities and jobs in all 11 countries.

But as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted in a recent speech in Malaysia, the success of all these areas is underpinned by peace and security. "Security," he said, "is a critical foundation of prosperity. Trade cannot flourish in waters that are contested by force. Societies cannot thrive under the threat of terrorism. And commerce cannot be sustained in areas devastated by natural disasters."

One of the most important ways to address these threats is through joint military exercises which build trust, allow the exchange of best practices, and better prepare the respective militaries to work together in response to crises.

Two other issues of particular concern are cybersecurity and maritime security. Disruptions to either domain could put lives at risk and threaten economies. The United States is helping nations across the region bolster their cyber defenses.

On maritime security, the United States is troubled by the increase in tensions and incidents in waters throughout the region, including in the South China Sea. The United States continues to call on all parties to exercise restraint and to resolve disputes peacefully, without use of intimidation, coercion or aggression.

"Together," said Defense Secretary Hagel, "the United States and all the nations of this region are defining a new future, one where we embrace the obligation to conduct ourselves responsibly and identify ways to work together to solve common challenges."