WASHINGTON -- Building alliances and partners are at the crux of Defense Secretary James N. Mattis’ trip to the Indo-Pacific region.
Mattis spoke to reporters on his way to Jakarta, Indonesia, where he will meet with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.
“We probably engage with the Indonesian military more than any other nation anywhere in terms of mil-to-mil engagements,” Mattis said.
He tied the trip to a line of effort in the newly released National Defense Strategy: strengthening existing alliances and making new partners. “That's why we go out here on trips like this: … for the normal consultations with each other,” he said.
The secretary stressed that the United States is a Pacific power and has served as the guarantor of the international order in the region since the end of World War II. That has been good for all the countries of the region, he said, including those in competition with America.
‘A Peaceful, Prosperous, Freer Asia’
“What we want out here (is) … a peaceful, prosperous and freer Asia with a free and open regional order defined by the rule of law,” the secretary said. “What we're looking for here is … that small nations get the same respect, the same regard as … larger nations. Every nation matters and there should not be any bullying or shredding of trust toward others.”
Mattis wants to increase maritime cooperation in the region, and Indonesia -- the connection point between the Indian and Pacific oceans -- is key to that.
The secretary will also visit Vietnam where he expects to discuss freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and the respect for international rule of law and national sovereignty.
Mattis is visiting Hanoi to hear more about how Vietnamese leaders see things developing as they maintain sovereignty over their territorial waters and economic zone, that they maintain oversight of that.
“Obviously, we want to know what level of engagement they want with us: Is it professional military education; is it joint training?” he said. “I want to sit down and just talk with them, get a better sense of the pragmatic steps that we can take as we move the relationship forward into one of trust and collaboration.”