Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Plenary Session of the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue
US DOD, Press Operations
Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis; John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
June 2, 2018
Allow me first to thank very warmly Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for his splendid keynote opening address last night, which was a joy to listen to, and I think his text deserves a full reading. And I’m quite certain by now it’s on the IISS website, possibly even on your telephone apps, and I think it’s something that should not just be heard, but also studied in slower time.
Let me thank also, of course, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for graciously hosting our dinner last night, Deputy Prime Minister Teo, Minister Ong, foreign minister and other hosts of the government of Singapore for insuring that yesterday’s dinner was such an excellent celebration of the spirit of the Shangri-La Dialogue and all that it represents.
This morning’s proceedings in plenary are on the record. The prepared remarks of each of the speakers are on the record. The answers to questions are on the record. I’d also like to underscore the questions themselves that are on the record. So, as you pose your questions, think, also, of your own reputations, as you make those brief remarks.
I will ask, when we do come to questions and comment that, you take no more than about 90 seconds in making that comment or question and perhaps, if you have something particularly profound to say, stretch to a maximum of two minutes. If I sense a speech coming on or serious momentum or building to a crescendo, I might, with the powers available to me here, turn off your microphone, so do exercise discipline.
I will be doing so, only in the democratic interest of insuring that as many of you as possible are able to join the conversation, as we say.
If you do want to make a brief comment or ask a question from the floor and we do want to engage as many people as possible, you need to do three things. First, you take your name badge and tap it on the left side of the microphone unit. And the second thing you do is touch the screen, either the left or right, depending on where you’re sitting in respect to the microphone, and then press the silver button on either the left or the side — or the right side. And when you do that, you will be joining the queue.
The microphone unit will turn green. That does not mean your microphone is on. So if you whisper something to your neighbor, you can be confident that not everybody in the hall will hear it. I will turn on your microphone when I call you, but it is important to put your name badge on the microphone. Press the green button. Press the silver button. Do those three things. You’re in the queue. There could often be 10 or 12, 15 people in the queue, and then I’ll shall call people as — as I can.
Our first plenary is on U.S. leadership and the challenges of Indo-Pacific security, and we’re delighted, of course, for the second year running to have the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis address us in this opening plenary.
As all of you know, he is an advocate of strong defense. As a soldier, he knows the brutality of war, and the effectiveness of a well trained military machine. As a thinker, he knows that strategy is vital and its development and constant application, important. And as a warrior, he knows the value of alliances. He has been an expert advocate of the arts of defense diplomacy. Understanding that engagement with political and military leaderships, internationally, is important for the United States. Of the many aphorisms for which he’s famous, one of the ones I like the most is his injunction to soldiers to engage your brain before you engage your weapon. And so, it is with very great pleasure that I invite Jim Mattis to engage his brain with us today. Jim Mattis, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: Thank you very much. Well, thank you, John. Good morning, excellencies and fellow ministers, military officers. And thank you to IISS and of course to Singapore — probably the most gracious and competent of hosts we can find anywhere in the world.
It’s an honor to come before you for the second time as the secretary of defense at the Shangri-La Dialogue which I consider the best opportunity for senior officials to meet, share perspectives, and reinforce the significance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
And in particular to speak to how we will work together to sustain that vision. Last year I came here principally to listen — I was new in office and I needed to do a lot of listening and I have visited this region six times since then and my listening has confirmed for me the high degree of commonality among the nations in this very-diverse region.
Today I come to share the Trump administration’s whole-of-government Indo-Pacific strategy which espouses the shared principles that underpin a free-and-open Indo Pacific.
For as Prime Minister Modi reflected last night, a commitment to common values must be a foundation or even the foundation upon which we build a shared destiny.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with India, ASEAN 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.
In firm support of this vision, America’s recently-released national security and national defense strategies express the Trump administration’s principled realism. They 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.
Both strategies affirm the Indo Pacific as critical for America’s continued stability, security, and prosperity. Americas Indo-Pacific strategy is a subset of our broader security strategy, codifying our principles as America continues to look West. In it we see deepening alliances and partnerships as a priority, ASEAN’s centrality remains vital, and cooperation with China is welcome wherever possible. And while we explore new opportunities for meaningful multilateral cooperation, we will deepen our engagement with existing regional mechanisms at the same time.
In the early years of our republic President Thomas Jefferson sought to establish America’s presence in the Pacific Northwest, the part of the country where I later grew up. President Jefferson anticipated this coastal region of America would become a gateway to the Pacific and open up vast opportunities for increased trade and commerce. America has expanded its engagement and deepened its connectivity across the region ever since.
So, make no mistake, America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater, our interests, and the regions are inextricably intertwined. Our Indo-Pacific strategy makes significant security, economic, and development investments, ones that demonstrate our commitment to allies and partners in support of our vision of a safe, secure, prosperous, and free Indo-Pacific based on shared principles with those nations, large and small.
Ones who believe their future lies in respect for sovereignty and independence of every nation, no matter its size, and freedom for all nations wishing to transit international waters and airspace, in peaceful dispute resolution without coercion, in free, fair, and reciprocal trade and investment, and in adherence to international rules and norms that have provided this region with relative peace and growing prosperity for the last decades.
To these principles, 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 or should dominate the Indo-Pacific.
For those who want peace and self-determination, we all have shared responsibility to work together to build our shared future. As we look to that future, our Indo-Pacific strategy will bring to bear U.S. strengths and advantages, reinvigorating areas of underinvestment.
This morning, I’d like to highlight several themes of our strategy. First, expanding attention on the maritime space. The maritime commons is a global good, and sea lanes of communication are the arteries of economic vitality for all. Our vision is to preserve that vitality by helping our partners build up naval and law enforcement capabilities and capacities to improve monitoring and protection of maritime orders and interests.
Second, interoperability. We recognize that a network of allies and partners is a force multiplier for peace. Therefore, we will ensure that our military is able to more easily integrate with others. This applies to both hardware and software by promoting financing and sales of cutting-edge U.S. defense equipment to security partners at opening the aperture of U.S. professional military education to more Indo-Pacific military noncommissioned officers and officers.
Through our security cooperation, we are building closer relationships between our militaries and our economies, all of which contributes to enduring trust.
The third theme is strengthening the rule of law, civil society, and transparent governance. This is the sunlight that exposes the malign influence that threatens to stain all economic development. Our defense engagements reinforce this theme, whether our professional military education or combined military exercises, or the day to day interactions between our soldiers, sailers, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen and the armed forces from across the region.
A fourth theme is the private sector-led economic development. The United States recognizes the region’s need for greater investment, including in infrastructure. We are invigorating 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.
The U.S. stands ready to cooperate with all nations to achieve this vision. 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. To protect shared principles, we will continue partnering with the existing regional institutions.
Central among these, of course, is ASEAN and the institutions it created, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus, and the East Asia Summit, as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, and trilateral and multilateral mechanisms of like-minded partners.
A central element of our strategy is strengthening of our alliances and partnerships in terms of mutual benefit and trusted relationships. We are committed to working by, with, and through allies and partners to address common challenges, to enhance shared capabilities, to increase defense investment where appropriate, to improve interoperability, to streamline information sharing, and to build networks of capable and like-minded partners.
In Northeast Asia, the dynamic security environment continues to underscore the importance of our robust alliance and partner relationships. On the Korean Peninsula, we hold the line with our ally, supporting our diplomats who lead this effort. Our objective remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible nuclear — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the international community is in alignment here, as evidenced by multiple unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Beyond North Korea, we are focused on modernizing our alliance with both the Republic of Korea and Japan, transforming these critical alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The Department of Defense remains steadfastly committed to working with Taiwan to provide the defense articles and services necessary to maintain sufficient self-defense consistent with our obligation set out in our Taiwan Relations Act. We oppose all unilateral efforts to alter the status quo, and will continue to insist any resolution of differences accord with the will of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In Southeast Asia, we have reinvigorated our longstanding alliances with the Philippines and Thailand while bolstering our enduring partnership with Singapore. At the same time, we are seeking to develop new partnerships with pivotal players across the region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, where we have made historic progress based on shared interest and mutual respect.
We 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.
In Oceana, our alliances and partnerships are based not only on common security interests, but also on deeply shared values and a long history of shared sacrifice. Australia remains one of our strongest allies, and this year we celebrate our first 100 years of (mateship ?). We are also revitalizing our defense partnership with New Zealand, and we’ve modernized these key alliances and partnerships to ensure that they are as relevant to the security challenges of this century as they were to the last.
Our strategy also recognizes the importance of the Pacific Islands, America’s gateway to the Indo-Pacific, and a region where we are stepping up our engagement.
The president’s budget made good on our long-overdue promise, to fund our compact of association with Palau, and this is just a down payment on the initiatives to come in this important part of the world.
In South Asia we are strengthening our partnerships, particularly with India. Prime Minister Modi’s remarks last evening underscored India’s role as a leader and responsible steward in the Indo-Pacific region.
The U.S. values the role India can play in regional and global security, and we view the U.S.-India relationship as a natural partnership between the world’s two largest democracies, based on a convergence of strategic interests, shared values, and respect for a rule-based international order.
Our regional cooperation is growing in a range of areas, consistent with these shared objectives. Our partnership extends beyond the Indo-Pacific region, and we welcome India’s continued significant contributions to stability reconstruction in Afghanistan.
We’re also increasing our engagement with other Pacific allies, such as the United Kingdom, France and Canada, with whom we share enduring interests in the region.
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 norms, protecting fundamental rights of our peoples and avoiding conflict.
Our Indo-Pacific strategy informs our relationship with China. 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.
Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness of our strategy. It promotes — what our strategy promotes, it calls into question China’s broader goals. China’s militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island.
Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion. China’s militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to President Xi’s 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this.
For these reasons, and as initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, last week we disinvited the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, as China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principals and the purposes of the RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest Naval exercise, and exercise in which transparency and cooperation are hallmarks.
To be clear, we do not ask any country to choose between the United States and China, because a friend does not demand you choose among them. China should and does have a voice in shaping the international system, and all of China’s neighbors have a voice in shaping China’s role. If the U.S. will continue to pursue a constructive results oriented relationship with China, cooperation whenever possible, will be the name of the game and competing vigorously where we must.
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 our open transparent approach to broadening and deepening the national dialogue between our two Pacific nations.
I will end as I began. As a Pacific nation, the United States remains committed to building a shared destiny with this region. The U.S. offers strategic partnerships, 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 we’ll continue to enjoy Washington’s strong bipartisan support.
For as, President Trump said, in Da Nang, we will never ask our partners to surrender their sovereignty or intellectual property. We don’t dream of domination. Working together on basis of shared principals, we can create a future that provides peace, prosperity, and security for all, a constellation of nations, each in its own bright star, satellites to none. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and I look forward to your questions.
MR. CHIPMAN: Many thanks, Mr. Secretary, and happily, we have a good amount of time for questions. I’ve got eight or nine people on the list already. Tap your name badge, press the green touch screen, press the silver, you’ll be on my list. The first person to catch my eye is (Josh Rogan ?) from the U.S. — Josh?
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for your time today and for your service.
As the Trump administration tries to strengthen our alliances and partnerships, to implement what your own national defense strategy calls, our strategic competition with China.
The way in which the Trump administration is picking fights with allies and partners, for example, on trade but certainly not exclusively on trade, seems profoundly counterproductive. If one of China’s strategic aims is to separate the United States from its allies and partners, aren’t we doing their work for them? Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: Well, first of all, I would just tell you that, when I travel the region, we find a great deal of common purpose with our partners, with our allies, even with non-traditional partners and allies, new relationships that are coming, are fresh to us, that are not ones that we enjoyed, as short as five years ago or 10 years ago.
So in my — the reality of what I find, as I travel, the short answer is no, we are not. Now, there are areas where friends disagree. There are areas where we compete in trade, but there is a underlying basis of fundamental respect for certain values, and I would just say, those values were extremely well articulated last evening by the prime minister of India and he spoke about respect for international law, that sort of thing. There was a president that we had a few years ago that I referenced earlier — President Thomas Jefferson. And he made a statement that in something so complicated as the science of what he called political economy, no one axiom can be laid down as wise and expedient for all times and circumstances.
Certainly, we have had some unusual approaches — I’ll be candid with you, some unusual approaches to how we deal with these issues. But I’m reminded that so long has nations continue dialogues — so long as they continue to listen to one another and to pay respect to one another, nothing is over, based on one decision, one day. And the enduring sharing of values, the enduring respect always provides a forum for us to move a relationship forward in a positive manner. And again, I would repeat, in a positive manner, a positive direction.
MR. CHIPMAN: From Indonesia, Dr. (Sylvia Yahdid ?).
Q: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. When we are talking about strategic partnership in this region of course we also have to deal with gaps of capabilities. May we know what the U.S. has — the strategies to deal with these gaps in capabilities among nations in this region? Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: You know, as we look at this — this issue — it’s one that we confronted inside this strategy because too often we’ve seen the very gap you referred to actually set us apart from allies, from partners, from those are dealing with terrorism, for example or other transnational threats. And what you have to do when you’re in our position you have to adjust everything from your training to the liaison opportunities to the education opportunities and use education and training as the primary avenues to close those gaps.
I think that what we will see in the future as I direct a by, with, and through military strategy for the U.S. military and Indo-Pacific command, you are going to see us more capable of closing that gap from our end. Where before we’ve stood back-said this is the way we do business. Now we’re going to come to you, say, how do you do business? And here’s what we’ve learned — whether it be in combating terrorism or in maritime operations and share those lessons in a manner that can be embraced and then we assist you also with high-end capabilities if that’s what the gap is based on and bring you forward as your sovereign decisions say this is a priority for you.
So, we believe the gap can be closed and it really comes down to whether or not we have the political will and the military wisdom to close the gap. We know the gap can be closed — we all recognize that. It’s just whether or not we choose to do so. I’m quite confident we can close the gap as we go forward. We do not find any military out here that is somehow in a position where they cannot grow, and we cannot grow alongside them in terms of partnership. We can overcome the gaps.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from India, (Sheila Baat ?).
Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask, America has changed the name of the Pacific Com recently to U.S.-Pacific Alliance. Sir, I wanted to know, what does it signify? What is the symbolism in it?
SEC. MATTIS: Right. With the symbolism, I’ve been asked about that several times last night and this morning. The bottom line is we should be willing to adapt the name of the command to reflect more accurately its focus.
As we’ve looked right now at the role of the Indian Ocean with the largest democracy in the world coming into its own with economic progress there in India, we need to recognize that there’s a growing significance to the Indian Ocean, to the Indian subcontinent, and certainly to India itself. So I want to make certain that the title actually reflects the reality. And there’s a changing reality. The world’s always changing, and that’s all this was.
Now underneath that, there are things that have been going on which show, as I referenced in my prepared remarks, that we are in fact dealing with our priority theater. I– I don’t trumpet those things. We’ve replaced, for example, third generation fighters with fifth generation fighters, we’ve added our most capable ships to the commander of Indo-Pacific Command’s fleet during the last year or two, and we will continue to address this theater as a priority and properly defined as now the Indo-Pacific Command.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from China, Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo.
Q: Thank you. A couple of years ago, the United States sent the Antietam missile cruiser and the — the Higgins missile destroyer to China’s territorial waters. And the — I think it is a violation of the law of the People’s Republic of China, of territorial waters, and — and the contiguous zone. And also it is obvious provocation to China’s national security and territorial integrity.
I think it is the militarization in the South China Sea under the veil of the freedom of navigation. So I’d like to have your comment on this.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, Colonel, I think it goes to a fundamental disconnect between the way the international tribunals have looked at these waters. These waters, to us, are free and open international waters. We all talk about a free and open Pacific, a free and open Asia-Pacific, a free and open Indo-Pacific. Freedom means freedom for all nations, large and small, to transit international airspace, international waters.
Traditionally, historically, and by the rule of law, this is not — this is not a revisionist view. This is a traditional view. This is an established view, and we’ve had international tribunals reinforce this, independent from us, that we don’t — we don’t control it, it was under (N Kloss ?), and so when we see those kind of manifestations of interpretations of international law, then we act accordingly.
We do not do freedom of navigation for America alone. We do freedom of navigation — it’s freedom for all nations, large and small, that need to transit those waters for their own prosperity and they have every reason to do so.
So we do not see it as a militarization by going through what has traditionally been an international water space. What we see it as is a reaffirmation of the rules-based order. And we — I — again, I will be going to Beijing to have further discussions on this at your government’s invitation here at the end of the month.
But I understand the disagreement, but it is not one on which we are unstudied and we believe it’s only appropriate that we keep those waterways open for all nations.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from Thailand, Dr. (Taernsac Shalaam Palunapub ?). You may have turned off your microphone, I fear, so go ahead.
Q: My question is…
MR. CHIPMAN: I’m — I’m afraid you’ve turned off your microphone (chip ?), perhaps I’ll just go to someone else and come back to you when someone comes to sort that out.
(Mark Champion ?) from the U.K.
Q: Secretary, thank you. I think it’s clear that you have established this year, last year, and for some time agreement on those principles of the — the rules-based order, freedom of navigation, you know, among most of the allies who — who come here. I — but the — there’s an increasing question I think about whether — not to mix metaphors, but the — the ship has sailed.
In other words, the military assets that were protesting against and their placement on islands that have already been built — they’re there. They’re not going to move. And the role that China — whatever role it is that China seeks to use them for is going to continue. Do you think that — that in essence, it’s correct? That that ship has sailed, and you’re going to have to deal with it?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, I — I think that — dealing with it as a reality, I think there are consequences to China ignoring the international community. We firmly believe in the non-coercive aspects of how nations should get along with each other, that they should listen to each other.
Nothing wrong with competition, nothing wrong with having strong positions, but when it comes down to introducing what they have done in the South China Sea, there are consequences.
I would tell you that up until — if you’d asked me two months ago, I’d have said we are still attempting to maintain a cooperative stance with the PRC, with China. We (were ?) inviting them to the RIMPAC and world’s largest naval exercise in order to try to keep the open lines of military communication between us and transparency.
But when you look at what President Xi said in the Rose Garden of the White House in 2015, that they would not militarize the Spratlys, and then we watched what happened four weeks ago, it was time to say there’s a consequence to this. And the world’s largest naval exercise will not have the Chinese Navy participating.
But that’s a relatively small consequence, and I believe there are much larger consequences in the future when nations lose the report of their neighbors, when they believe that piling mountainous debts on their neighbors and somehow removing the freedom of political action is the way to engage with them.
Eventually, these things do not pay off, even if on the financial (lender sheet ?) or the power (lender sheet ?) they appear to. It’s a very shaky foundation when we believe that militarizing features are somehow going to endorse their standing in the world, and — and enhance it. It is not. It’s not going to be endorsed in the world. It’s not going to enhance it.
And you have to wonder why military actions that are politically injurious would be engaged in by a nation. What is the value to having carried out military operations? Number one, we all know nobody is ready to invade those features. Certainly, we could have had the dispute resolution go on in a peaceful way. To simply muscle the way in using weapons to do what international tribunals do not endorse is not a way to make long-term collaboration the role of the road in a region that’s as important to China’s future and we respect that, as it is to every other nation’s future out here.
So, there are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China if they do not find the way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interest.
MR. CHIPMAN: Dr. (Tamzak ?).
Q: Thank you, sir. Mr. Secretary, what else can ASEAN do as far as the FOIP is concerned? So far ASEAN as a group is only asking for more details, so in your opinion what else can ASEAN as a group do?
SEC. MATTIS: Number one, we see ASEAN’s centrality in effect being a way to have a forum where the nations can come together and certainly some nations are small — they don’t have big militaries. They have smaller economies. But they all have a voice. They all have human beings who would deserve a future and need prospects of advantage. This is the normal thing that nations do for their people. It’s why, frankly, we’re all here at Shangri-La. I mean we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t recognize our interactions with each other.
I think when you look at ASEAN it has always been a very non-contentious organization. It looks for ways to deal with things maturely. How do you make things win-win rather than win/lose? How can everybody benefit?
Now when they speak with one voice there is a much stronger lesson coming out of ASEAN. A lesson that we can all learn from. I think too that we have to avoid — I would just point out the — what Prime Minister Modi called last night the impossible burdens of debt. Certain nations can actually lose their freedom simply by taking what appears to be a hand-up when in fact it’s a hand-out that makes them depended.
So, if the ASEAN nations can help one another and support one another in a way that maintains the freedom, the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of each of the nations then that, in effect, strengthens ASEAN’s voice.
But I think it’s most important that ASEAN look for unity on these fundamental values that Prime Minister Modi went into quite-good detail about last night. And the idea that we’re going to turn over this world to our children without having the same kinds of values, the same advantages that we have enjoyed as these nations came out from underneath the yoke of colonialism, I think that sets a very irresponsible position. We’re going to have to pull together and deal with it in a unified way. ASEAN’s centrality means it is fundamental to that effort.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from France, (Francois Borg ?).
Q: Thank you. Last year at the previous Shangri-La dialogue, in response to a question from the floor, sir, you urged America’s allies quote, “to bear with us.” Does this recommendation still stand?
And on a more personal note, how are you bearing up? (Laughter.)
SEC. MATTIS: I hate it when someone quotes me from the year before. (Laughter.)
Q: Never happens.
SEC. MATTIS: Well, sir, I would just tell you that based on my travels over the last year, I’ve been out in the region six times since I was last here, some for extended trips, and I — I enjoy doing a lot of listening when I’m out and about, we continue to find more common ground than uncommon ground. We continue to find more reason for collaboration than not.
And remember, this is an America that if you go back several hundred years to President Jefferson, from then one, we saw this as an opportunity out in the Pacific to and with nations. Our first Treaty of Amity was with Thailand back in the early 1800s. For 200 years we’ve been here. For 200 years we’ve watched the European colonial wave come through and then recede.
We have watched fascism, imperialism, wash over the region, and at a great cost to many of us in this room and our forefathers it was pushed back and defeated by 1945. We watched Soviet communism as it tried to push into the region, and the Cold Ware blunted stopped and rolled that back, so we have been here. We have seen those who want to dominate the region come and watch them go, and we’ve stood with you.
So this is not about one decision at this point in time. This is not about any areas that we may find uncommon right now, and we may be dealing with in unusual ways, but the bottom line is, that we have been through thick and thin, we have stood with nations, and they all recognize today, we believe in the free, and independent and sovereign nations out here.
And I would just tell you that we are not going to change our mind on this. After that rather nasty argument we had with King George III, my apologies to our U.K. comrades — (Laugher.) — we have stood on this same principle, and it’s not based on which party’s in power. It is not based on a fleeting position. This is one we look back on with a great deal of confidence. So also look forward to the future with confidence.
And I’m doing just fine, thank you. No problem. (Laughter.)
Q: Well done.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from Japan, (Hiroyuki Akita ?)
Q: Thank you very much, chair. (Hiroyuki Akita ?) from (Nikkei ?) Japan.
I have two quick questions about the North Korean crisis. One is that the — in late April, as I remember, you implied that status of U.S. troops in Korean Peninsula will be on negotiation table if peace talk between south and north will make progress. And does it mean that it is also option for U.S. to withdraw or reduce U.S. military footprint in Korean Peninsula in case of the — you know, if there was progress between South and North at peace talks?
And second question is that President Trump announced that there’s going to be a meeting on June 12th between Mr. Trump and (inaudible) Kim Jong-Un, and he said that he doesn’t want to talk about maximum pressure anymore.
And so my question is that, is military option still on the table? Or while you talk — the U.S. talks with North Korea, maybe it is off the table? Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: Thank you. Obviously, the eyes of the world, the hopes of the world are on these talks and I would just say to our Singapore hosts here today, they are also hosting these talks and we are grateful that you have been able to on such short notice with the usual to-and-fro of something as historically groundbreaking as this the way you’ve just taken it all in stride — we are grateful for that — that sort of support.
I would tell you that any discussion about the number of U.S. troops in the Republic of Korea is subject to — one, the Republic of Korea’s invitation to have them there and the discussions between the United States and the Republic of Korea — separate and distinct from the negotiations that are going on with DPRK. They have — that issue will not come up in the discussions with DPRK and as you all recognize; those troops are there as a recognition of a security challenge.
Obviously, if the diplomats can do their work — if we can reduce the threat. If we can restore confidence-building measures with something verifiable, then of course these kinds of issues can come up subsequently between two sovereign democracies — the Republic of Korea and the United States. But that issue is not on the table here in Singapore on the 12th nor should it be.
As far as military options, I think you’re aware — and I said this last year when I was here — I have said it in every public forum I’ve been asked about this issue. This has been a diplomatically-led issue since January 22 of last year when we came into office. It has been diplomatically led. It has been diplomatically reinforced at the UN Security Council with three — just since January of last year — three unanimous security council resolutions.
It was diplomatically led when Canada hosted the sending nations Foreign Minister’s — these are the nations that sent crew to the Korean Peninsula in response to the United Nation’s call in 1950. Canada hosted the foreign ministers, not the defense ministers, in Vancouver British Columbia in a discussion this last January to further the diplomatic efforts to try to bring this issue to a close.
So, we still stand for the verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula and the diplomats are engaged right now in New York. Advanced teams are engaged here in Singapore and I think the hopes of all of us lie with them.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from Australia, Gordon Flake.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Over the last several months there’s been a lot of discussion about the quadrilateral dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. And so much so there’s been a bit of a strawman thrown up there as evidence of the lack of robustness of the Indo-Pacific. And yet in your remarks and in the Prime Minister’s remarks last night, the quad didn’t come up in specific. I’m curious as to your assessment of the relationship between the quad itself and the Indo-Pacific strategy, as you outlined it.
SEC. MATTIS: Very good. The Quad, as you characterized it accurately, is certainly one of those additional mechanisms, multilateral mechanisms that we look to. We look to it, and look at what is the common character there, Australia, Japan and India and the United States. All four are democracies. That’s the first thing that jumps out at you.
So we have four democracies that are talking about how do we maintain stability? How do we maintain open navigation? How do we talk about basically keeping things on a peaceful dispute-resolution path? And I think that it would — it’s absolutely an idea fit for its time, and I support it 100 percent.
I actually had my seven-hour speech here, and that was one of the things I cut out in order to reduce it somewhat (Laughter.)
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you.
And from the United States, Senator Dan Sullivan?
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary for an outstanding speech and your exceptional leadership. We in the U.S. Senate also think you’re doing fine, so I’m glad you think you’re doing fine.
You know, as the secretary of defense, you’ve also spoke very articulately about the importance of economic issues and financial issues. And in addition to your leadership, where we are very focused on rebuilding our military, we are also back home in the United States reinvigorating very strongly our economy, hoping to be growing at 3 to 4 percent GDP growth, which we haven’t seen in well over a decade, and areas like energy, where we are now once again the world’s energy superpower in terms of the production of oil, production of natural gas, production of renewables.
Can you talk to those issues and how you see them fitting in the broader Indo-Pacific strategy for the United States and how important those are, as well as military matters?
SEC. MATTIS: I can, senator. One of our senators from a Pacific Ocean state, the state of Alaska, the economic — the economy of our country has always been the economic engine that drove our national security, so restoring the economic underpinning has been essential as the administration came into — came into office with its responsibilities.
But we see this almost as the way we hear it explained to every time we get on an airliner, and you’ve all heard the speech that in the event of loss of cabin pressure your mask will drop; put your own mask on first, and then help others around you. We see what we’re doing here as a way to economically build our own enduring strength, but we do not see that, nor have we ever seen that as something selfish.
You know what we did with the Marshall Plan after World War II. Senator Gardner also joins us here. He has got an initiative with heavy bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, for the Asia reassurance. Basically how are we going to reinforce our friends, partners, allies in the Pacific? How do we share that kind of economic vitality that we are going to have in terms of technology, in terms of military-to-military connection.
And most importantly, how do we help the development of those nations that are still lagging behind or still coming out of difficult circumstance?
So this is basically our engine again today that has been ever since around 1900 that kept us an as arsenal of freedom, an arsenal of democracy, but it’s also meant in the broader terms of democratic values being reinforced by — using the economic sinews that we are now developing once again in a much more robust manner, if that addresses your question, senator.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from Pakistan, (Alisar Wanakfe ?).
Q: Mr. Secretary, it’s a pleasure to hear you speak about U.S. strategy in the Pacific region. Mr. Secretary, I head a think-tank in Islamabad, Pakistan. There are perceptions that different people have different things.
We feel that the United States is of course interested in peace and stability of the South Asian region but is not paying enough attention to the nuclear situation in our region. The nuclear weapons capability of India and Pakistan on land was worrying in many ways already and now India has embarked upon the nuclearization of the Indian ocean with the (inaudible) and all other naval vessels — submarines — nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed. Which is not only a cause of strategic instability between India and Pakistan also the security worry for 32 literal states that are located in the Indian-Ocean region.
Would you like to comment, sir on this? And I have another small question — if I can quickly do it, Mr. Chapman.
MR. CHIPMAN: If you can quickly do it.
Q: The Indian role in Afghanistan — India is not a neighbor contiguous to Afghanistan, so I don’t know how the U.S. visualizes an Indian role in Afghanistan. Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: Thank you. Very good questions. We’ve put together several strategies and one common theme in our Indo-Pacific strategy and certainly in what we called South-Asia strategy, which was the one within which we contribute to the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan — a theme that these are not strategies. These are not confrontational strategies. They are based on the idea of cooperation.
For example, we regionalized our strategy in South Asia, so we were not looking at Afghanistan in isolation. And obviously when you look at South Asia, then Pakistan and India were two of the nations we had to consider: their legitimate security interest; their potential role in restoring peace in an area where a war has gone on too long already.
And so, we put these strategies together as a way to find common ground regionally, not as a way to find an exclusive club.
So, in terms of — now narrow that down to nonproliferation. I believe that we have got to give as a world community — as a global community more attention to nonproliferation. Clearly, we do not need any more of these kinds of crises where we have looked away from the problem in DPRK for too long and now we are confronting something where the hopes of the world — almost everyone is catching their rough as we wish well to the diplomats upon whom this burden has now dropped.
There are ways to maintain a world with a nonproliferation as an ongoing issue, an ongoing effort by all of us, nuclear armed and not nuclear armed. In the — in the case of the U.S., after we came out with our National Defense Strategy, we came out with a Nuclear Posture Review, an NPR, something that, by the way, before I rolled it out, we went to a number of — more than two dozen allies and briefed them ahead of time and took their ideas onboard. Because these are the — this nuclear deterrent is probably the most — the heaviest issue that I deal with every day in this job.
So what we want to do is if we modernize to keep the nuclear deterrent safe and effective, so those weapons are never used, we have to have a significant effort — collaborative effort within — of nonproliferation as we try to reduce the — this scourge, and that’s the only way you can describe nuclear weapons in this world. So we will work on this.
And I think in the Indian Ocean, I think you bring up a good point, it’s one of the areas we as a world need to give more attention to. How do we reduce the concerns of — of the countries there so they don’t have to resort to a larger nuclear stockpile?
(Inaudible) dollars of development money, and there are highways, there are schools, medical clinics. You’ll notice there are no Indian troops on the ground, as they understand there’s a role for development here as they trying to stay stabilizing without aggravating the concerns of the Pakistan government — of your country’s government.
So it’s a difficult issue, but I think it’s also one that India is operating in the best interest of the region and of the world as they try to help through development funds to remove the root causes of why young men pick up guns or — or listen to the lies of the terrorists and then they get off — once they start thinking in this direction, it is very difficult to bring them back to a civilized behavior.
And so I like what India’s doing there. I support it. I think we need more education and less fighting in the world, and I see India foremost in this effort in Afghanistan.
MR. CHIPMAN: I’ve got about 14 people on the list. I’m just going to take two. Dr. Jeffrey Ordaniel from the Philippines.
Q: You have mentioned the South China Sea quite extensively in your speech, Mr. Secretary. So my question is related to the U.S.-Philippine alliance. Because in 2014, President Obama, when he was visiting Manila, was asked twice by a journalist if Philippine-occupied features and Filipino public vessels in the South China Sea are covered by the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. And twice, he sidelined the question.
When Secretary Hillary Clinton was asked the same question, she said that she does not to discuss hypothetical scenarios. But let me just ask the same question of you, Mr. Secretary, because I think the answer to this question is very important as to how the Duterte administration is going to move ahead with its own maritime security policy.
So in essence the question is, are Filipino public vessels and Philippine-occupied features in the South China Sea covered by the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty? Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, thank you. It’s good to see someone without my color hair here, young man. I appreciate that.
The — let me tell you that when we have discussions on these matters, the reason why public figures do not want to give specific answers is that these are complex issues. And when you start saying, “yes, no, black, white” — we have been on the record about international tribunals that say there is no such thing as a nine-dash line, or is no legal basis for this — we stand by international law. We stand by international tribunals. We listen to each nation’s concerns. And to simply turn it into a — a military or non-military response is — is a shortchanging of the issue.
This is what diplomacy is all about. Diplomacy is all about taking contrary perspectives and finding common ground. And we’ve got to try to do that in this world. Those of us who have worn uniforms, those who wear uniforms today, are keenly aware of the cost of war, and there has got to be a commitment, not a, “Well, when it suits me, I’ll listen to other nations.” Not, “When it suits me, I’ll listen to international tribunals.”
It’s go to be that we actually want to live by these rules, these rules that have allowed China to recover many people from the depths of poverty and bring up their quality of life; these rules have helped China. There is a reason why China, I believe, will eventually come to grips with the needs and the expectations of the neighbors around them.
And further, I would just tell you that we maintain confidentiality at times in these efforts, and I — you know, I mean it’s a free and open press here, and I — I support that, but at the same time, you can often do most of your good work and setting the conditions for a path ahead by not locking yourself into public statements where, understandably, people take each word separately apart and now pretty soon you’re — you’re locked into positions that do not allow the diplomats to find common ground.
So I’m not trying to give a — a civics class here, I just want you to understand why in many cases those who actually carry the responsibility do not go for, “It’s my way or the highway,” or there’s only one position. That would — might very well be a going in position, and we stand by our treaty allies, but this is a discussion between the current administration in the Manila and in Washington D.C., and it’s not one that can be answered as simply as your question would indicate.
MR. CHIPMAN: And from Malaysia, Dr. (Ngao Chao Bing ?).
Q: Hello. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. So the reason the National Security Strategy document and a National Defense Strategy document of the United States government have identified China and Russia as the main concerns, and basically the strategic adversaries in the coming years, I assume, is the position.
As I understand the — for a long time, the U.S. strategy is trying not to create — it will have a unifier erosion (inaudible) and try to drive a wedge between China and Russia, but now the documents seem to actually push them to work together even further. So is that really — I’m just wondering — is that really a wise move to put China and Russia and make them actually work much closer in these documents? Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes. If that’s what the documents appear to do — I’ve got to go back and read them again, because our view is that with both those nations with great power competition and at levels that we had hoped we’d see be characterized more by cooperation and collaboration — if the competition is going to grow more strident then that’s what we don’t want to have happen.
And in terms of their relationship I think it’s — from my review its objective fact that Russia has more in common with Western Europe and the United States than they have in common with China. I believe China has more in common with Pacific Ocean nations and the United States and India than they have in common with Russia. I think there’s a natural non-convergence of interest. There may be short-term convergence in the event they want to contradict international tribunals or try muscling their way into certain circumstances but my view — I would not be wasting my time going to Beijing at the end of the month if I really thought that’s the only option between us and China. What would be the point of it? I’ve got more important things to do.
I believe that what we’re going to see is at some point in both Moscow and Beijing they are going to recognize the reality of what we see in this room: many different nations all sitting down together all trying to find a way forward with respect for each other’s internal dynamics, each other’s culture and not finding this as a reason why we cannot work together. We all know we can work together.
We have worked closely with Russia to defeat fascism and with China to defeat fascism. We have worked closely with other nations that we had open war with: with Germany, with Japan after World War II. There is no need for this to go in the direction you’re referring to of those two against the world.
There are obviously a lot of nations allied with us. There’s a lot of nations collaborating and partnering with us but those nations and us, combined have a desire for peace and figured out how we can find a way through these disagreements in a positive, productive, relationship that’s competitive certainly but does not have to be combative and that we all have to work hard at that.
But I will go back and read the documents again — after you go through it about 30 times before you sign it you can sometimes start to see the forest for the trees. So, thanks for bringing that up. I’ll take a look at it. It’s certainly not how we see the world.
MR CHIPMAN: In about two minutes we will move immediately to the second plenary on the important issue of de-escalating the North Korean crisis, but I hope you all agree with me that we have had just now a very clear statement from the U.S. secretary of defense. And a tremendous conversation with the secretary of defense in command of the subject matter, the issues, the strategy, and defense diplomatic execution. And please join me in thanking him for these 45 minutes. (Applause.)