WASHINGTON -- The United States has deep interests in the Indo-Pacific and will remain engaged in the region, U.S. officials said at the Center for a New American Security conference here yesterday.
Alex N. Wong, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said the United States has an unmatched alliance structure in the region with treaties with Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand.
There are more forward-deployed U.S. service members in the Indo-Pacific region than anywhere else, Wong said, and they field the most advanced weapons systems in the U.S. inventory.
And, the United States does more two-way trade with Indo-Pacific countries than any other country in the world, he said, with the United States the premier foreign investor in the region.
It is clear, Wong said, the international order based on the rule of law the United States has championed in the Indo-Pacific since the end of World War II has served the region well, and Chinese attempts to change that would be bad for the nations of the region and the world.
David F. Helvey, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said Defense Secretary James N. Mattis’ National Defense Strategy identifies the Indo-Pacific region as the priority for DoD.
‘We Have Deep Interests in the Region’
“This reflects the reality,” Helvey said. “We have deep interests in the region that span the gamut of our relationships.”
The core principles of the region’s international order based on the rule of law are long established, he said, and they include freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes and support and upholding international norms and standards for behavior.
Helvey said most nations in the Indo-Pacific region support these principles and see the benefits of them each day via trade and economic prosperity.
Since taking office, Mattis has make six trips to the Indo-Pacific region to visit with established allies, and also meeting with defense and military leaders from Indonesia, Vietnam and India, he said.
Wong said the Chinese want to replace the long-established system with One Belt, One Road -- a system centered on benefiting China.
“You look at [One Belt, One Road], which was only announced in 2013 … that is a response from China to catch up to the free and open system,” Wong said. “We don’t really don’t need to respond to OBOR, we need to empower our partners in the region to say that if China wants to play in the area of regional integration … it has to play by the high standards; the best value standards that will ensure broad prosperity and ensure the sovereignty of the nations of the Indo-Pacific.”
Indo-Pacific Regional Alliances
Key to this is the network of alliances the United States maintains with the nations of the region, Helvey said, noting the American military conducts exercises each year to ensure interoperability with allied and partner nations. Many of those nations, he said, are members of the defeat-ISIS coalition and previous training has been invaluable in allowing the militaries to work together.
“To the extent that we can work together, we can operate together,” Helvey said. “We can perform different types or missions and operations seamlessly in concert with our allies and partners. It represents one of the best ways to maintain our strategic advantage.”
Helvey said the United States must pay attention to China, which is a large U.S. trading partner and an emerging super power.
“How do we manage the competition with China in a way that … ultimately redounds to our benefit?” Helvey posited. “Part of that is maintaining open and stable means of communication with our Chinese counterparts. Part of it is ensuring we are introducing and exercising the right kind of risk reduction measures -- hot lines, confidence-building measures -- so that when we are operating in close proximity … they are done in a safe way.”