Sovereignty, cooperation, and freedom were themes sounded by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in his recent address to defense ministers and academics from Pacific Rim nations and others at the Annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore: “Standing shoulder to shoulder with India, ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], and our treaty allies and other partners, America seeks to build an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are safeguarded – the promise of freedom fulfilled, and prosperity prevails for all.”
Secretary Mattis emphasized that “[w]e continue to support ASEAN centrality in the regional security architecture, and seek to further empower it. The more ASEAN speaks with one voice, the better we can maintain a region free from coercion, one that lives by respect for international law.”
To these principles, he said, “America is true in both word and deed. In our economics, we seek fair competition. We do not practice predatory economics, and we stand consistent with our principles. The U.S. Strategy recognizes no one nation can nor should dominate the Indo-Pacific.”
Cooperation with China is welcome, where possible, Secretary Mattis said: “We are prepared to support China’s choices, if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in this dynamic region.”
However, Secretary Mattis declared that China’s militarization of the South China Sea is a destabilizing move that runs counter to the peace, security, and inclusiveness sought by U.S. strategy. The advanced weapons systems China has placed on disputed features in the Spratly Islands are used “for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” he said. For this reason, China was disinvited from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise. Secretary Mattis warned of further consequences if China does “not find the way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interest” in the region.
“The United States offers strategic partnerships not strategic dependence,” Secretary Mattis said. “Working together on a basis of shared principles, we can create a future that provides peace, prosperity and security for all, a constellation of nations, each its own bright star, satellites to none.”