MODERATOR: Greetings from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub. I would like to welcome journalists to today’s on-the-record briefing with Captain Claudine Caluori, U.S. Navy, Mission Commander of Pacific Partnership 2023. Captain Caluori will discuss this year’s Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific. This year’s mission included stops in Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Fiji, Samoa, Palau, and Papua New Guinea, and will continue through the end of the year with a stop in Tonga.
She will be joined today by Director of Medical Operations for Pacific Partnership 2023, U.S. Navy Captain Robert Carpenter and the Mission Engineer, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Colby Gilbert.
With that, let’s get started. Captain Caluori, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Thank you, and good afternoon. I am U.S. Navy Captain Claudine Caluori. I’m the Mission Commander for Pacific Partnership 2023. When I’m not on mission, I am also the Commander of Destroyer Squadron 31, which is based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
First, let me start off by thanking you for being with us today and hearing about the great accomplishments that the 2023 Pacific Partnership mission is currently carrying out in the Pacific. In my almost 25 years of service in the United States Navy, this has truly been one of the most astonishing missions of my career.
So Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission in the Indo-Pacific. Each year our mission team works with host and partner nations to enhance regional interoperability and disaster response capabilities. We increase security and stability and we foster new and enduring friendships in the Indo-Pacific. The relationship between the countries we have visited and our partners are deep and enduring.
So on behalf of the U.S. Navy and the Pacific Partnership crew, we are honored to have visited so many wonderful countries, and we’re excited about our last mission stop on this incredible journey. The Pacific Partnership 2023 team embarked on the Harpers Fairy-class dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor LSD 52 and was joined by the Independence-Class littoral combat ship USS Jackson, or LCS-6.
As stated earlier, our mission began in August in Vietnam, and we’ve successfully completed stops in the Philippines, Malaysia, Samoa, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and we’re about to complete our stop here in Fiji. And this is actually our second stop here in Fiji on this current mission. A small crew of U.S. sailors had the opportunity to board the Japanese tank landing ship, the Japanese ship Shimokita, and they visited the Tailevu province just this past August, where they executed a mangrove revitalization project with other U.S. Navy and Army, the Royal New Zealand Navy and Air Force, the Japanese Maritime and Ground Self-Defense Forces, the Republic of Fiji Maritime Military Forces, and students of the Ballantine Memorial Secondary School.
So as I mentioned earlier, the USS Jackson serves as a secondary platform for our mission, and they made their first stop in Fiji, where our team and the ship’s personnel visited the Lautoka School for Special Education, and they held a rugby match. Unfortunately, they lost that match, but hey, they tried. But it was at the Sangam Sadhu Kuppuswami Memorial College. They also gave tours aboard the ship, and they were very grateful to have given this opportunity to visit Fiji not once but twice.
And so this mission has allowed us to promote interoperability and multinational cooperation with allies and partners by highlighting multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through medical and engineering projects, and it’s also in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
We continue our mission throughout the South Pacific until the end of the year. We are now in its 18th year. So Pacific Partnership 2023 consists of nearly 1,500 U.S. and partner nation personnel who will carry out this mission. And it’s a joint effort on behalf of Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and the United States.
And just for some background, Pacific Partnership was born out of the devastation wrought by the December 2004 tsunami that swept through parts of South and Southeast Asia, and began as a humanitarian response to one of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters.
So at the invitation of hosts and nations, our mission partners visit and conduct tailored humanitarian civic action preparedness activities in the areas such as engineering, disaster response, public health, and other outreach events. And additional criteria are also considered, such as host nations’ objectives and desires. The enduring goal of Pacific Partnership is promoting interoperability and multinational cooperation through multiple lines of effort to help be regional – help build, sorry, regional resilience and the capacity to respond to disasters.
Our projects, as I said earlier, have been tailored at the request of host nations. So while on our mission stops, we conduct these projects throughout cities and provinces that were selected. And we have and we will continue to conduct subject matter expert exchanges in public health and preventative medicine, also in adult and pediatric medicine, basic life support, first aid lectures, dental care, and veterinary services. These medical subject matter expert exchanges are designed to share expertise across participating nation providers to combine provider practices and bring cultural awareness.
So Pacific Partnership transitioned from its primary focus of providing direct care to focus on collective capacity building. So any direct care provided will be shoulder to shoulder with host nation and partner nations. And the intent is that we share the knowledge and skills that are enduring and applicable well after the mission is completed.
So military and civilian leaders agree about the necessity of collaboration to respond to disasters and emergencies quickly and effectively. As we all know, storms and catastrophic events don’t know a country’s boundaries. And this mission allows us to show response capabilities and show that we can prepare in calm to be able to respond to a crisis.
As you are all very much aware, I’m sure, Indo-Pacific is within what the scientists call the Pacific Ring of Fire, and it’s not about if, but when we will need to work collectively to respond to natural disasters. So the United States and our partners, we stand ready to assist when called upon. Some recent relief efforts include the 2022 volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga; the 2018 Super Typhoon Yutu relief efforts in the Northern Mariana Islands; and the 2011 relief efforts during Operation Tomodachi in Japan, which followed the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. So just to name few.
So again, thanks for joining us and I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Captain Caluori. We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.
Our first question goes to Huizhong Wu of AP based in Bangkok, Thailand, who submitted their question in advance. “I’d like to hear about U.S. military partnerships in the Federated States of Micronesia.”
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Thank you for your question. So just recently, sailors and Marines assigned to Task Force Koa Moana 23 demonstrated their skills while bolstering U.S. alliances in the Pacific region. So that task force, they worked on a series of construction projects in several Indo-Pacific nations over the summer. The latest was the renovation of a – I can’t – of a municipal center on the island of Yap, Micronesia. So just like Pacific Partnership, their mission helps to improve the health and safety of the communities, which in turn enhance U.S. relationships with its partners.
Additionally, Pacific Partnership has visited the Federated States of Micronesia several times over the last years, to include 20 – 2008, ’11, ’15, most recently in 2019 with the USNS Brunswick, and they will also be visited in 2024, in January, with the USNS Mercy as a part of their mission coming up.
MODERATOR: Our next question goes to Bethany Allen of Axios based in Taipei, Taiwan. And Bethany, I see that you also inputted your question in the Q&A. If you would like to unmute and pose your question, please do so now.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Yes, thank you. I noticed that the Solomon Islands is not on the list of participating countries this year. I know it has participated for several years in the past, including last year when it was supposed to participate and then in the ended up denying access to a U.S. Navy vessel but still allowed access to a U.S. hospital ship during the Pacific Partnership. Why are they not on the list this year? And is that related to their growing security partnership with China? Thank you.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Hi, Bethany. Thank you for your question. So to answer that, Pacific Partnership 24-1 is with the hospital ship USNS Mercy. They will actually be going to the Solomon Islands. Actually, they’re going to be arriving in the Solomon Islands – I think it’s on or around 18 November – and they’ll depart on 3 December.
As far as the second part of your question, I can’t comment on any claims or hypothetical accusations on a previous mission. However, last year from May through September, the USNS Mercy did stop in Palau and Philippines and Vietnam in addition to several events that included Federated States and Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, and Papua New Guinea.
MODERATOR: The next question goes to Vincent Choi from the South China Morning Post based in Hong Kong. Vincent, if you could please unmute and please pose your question.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Yes, we can. Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, so there has been frequent clashes between Chinese and Philippine coast guard near the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. So how does the U.S. Navy observe the situation here and what are the plans you have regarding the cooperation with the Philippine navy in the in the region? Thank you.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Okay, can you say the second half of your question? I think I caught the first half, but I didn’t quite grab the second one.
QUESTION: Oh yeah, okay. So what are your – what are the plans you have regarding the cooperation with the Philippine navy in the South China Sea?
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Okay, great. Thank you, Vincent. I appreciate your question. As far as – I’ll address the second one first, where we just talked about the cooperation. And I just want to reiterate that our government has reaffirmed that a strong U.S.-Philippine alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and that we’ll continue to partner closely with the Philippines. And I know you’re aware that for more than 70 years the U.S. Navy has maintained a persistent maritime presence in the Indo-Pacific, and the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is committed to continuing its forward presence, which is focused on stability and regional cooperation and economic prosperity for all nations.
And then as far as the first part of your question, it’s like we’ll continue – the U.S. will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows. And the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Joint Force, we remain dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and we expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific to operate in international waters safely and in accordance with international law.
MODERATOR: Our next question goes to Gordon Arthur from Naval News based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Gordon, if you could please unmute and please ask your question now.
QUESTION: Hi there, Captain. Thanks very much for this opportunity to listen and to ask you questions. My question is to do with China, and I know the last few months in particular Chinese – China has been performing naval diplomacy in the South Pacific. There have been hospital ships, training ships. So just wondering, do you see the U.S. as complementing or competing with China for influence in the South Pacific? And also during Pacific Partnership, have you had any encounters or contact with the PLA Navy? Thank you.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Thank you, Gordon, for your question. So the U.S. Navy and our allies and partners, we value our growing cooperation with host nations and we look forward to enhancing the lines of communication and understanding that promotes greater cooperation and partnerships that benefit all nations. And all Pacific Partnership 2023 operations are driven by host nation requests and approval. As I stated earlier, the host nations invite the U.S. Navy and its mission partners to visit and conduct tailored humanitarian civic action preparedness activities in areas such as engineering, disaster response, public health and outreach events. And all – again, all additional criteria are taken into consideration, such as the host nation objections and desires. But I am not aware of any contacts at this time.
MODERATOR: Okay, we’re going to go to a question that was submitted in advance from Angie Chen of the Central News Agency based in Manila, Philippines. “We are seeing higher tensions in the South China Sea, but some are worried that the U.S. is distracted by the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. Will this concern be addressed in the Pacific Partnership this year?”
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Okay, thanks for the question. Pacific Partnership is conducted yearly, so it’s not in response to any nation or current events. Pacific Partnership does have an enduring history as a multinational mission designed to bring several nations together to build relationships, enhance interoperability, and elevate preparedness for responding to disaster emergencies in the region.
So the focus is disaster relief preparation. And as I stated earlier, for more than 70 years the U.S. Navy has maintained a persistent maritime presence in the Indo-Pacific, and we remain committed to continuing this forward presence, which is focused on stability, regional cooperation, and economic prosperity for all nations. And as always, a free Indo-Pacific is vital to the interests of the United States and its allies and partners.
MODERATOR: Okay, our next question will go to Dat Duong Quoc from Trí newspaper in Vietnam. If you could please unmute and ask your question now.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this. So am I premature to ask about whether Vietnam will be included in the next year Pacific Partnership? And has Vietnamese authorities made any invitation to you for the next year? Thank you.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Hi. Thank you for your question. I am not aware if Vietnam is included in next year’s Pacific Partnership. We have been going to Vietnam over the last several years, and the last time we were in Vietnam was – we were just in Phú Yên province, where we conducted over 119 events over 10 days. And we’re looking forward to future collaboration with Vietnam. And again, our relationship with Vietnam continues to grow stronger across an increasingly broad range of subjects, and Pacific Partnership is a way that we continue to develop these relationships. Thank you.
MODERATOR: The next question will go to the Q&A queue. We have a correspondent from the Joongangilbo in South Korea. If you would like to unmute and ask your question now, please do so.
Okay, I will ask the question. So this is from Joongangilbo from South Korea. “We already have two wars in the Middle East and Europe, and there are many reports about military conflicts between the U.S. and China in Asia, especially around Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. Do you think – do you think there is some possibility to occur another war in this area? Thank you.”
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Thank you again for your question. So our allies and partners are one of our greatest strengths and key strategic advantage. We’re advancing a shared vision alongside our allies and partners of a free and open and secure Indo-Pacific, and we continue to deepen our connections with regional allies and partners, and we will continue to support our allies and partners as they strengthen those relationships with each other. And we are committed – we remain committed to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, can pursue economic opportunity, and resolve disputes without coercion, and of course have the freedom to navigate and fly consistent with international laws and norms.
MODERATOR: The next question will go to Chino Gaston from the GMA Network Incorporated in Manila, Philippines, who submitted his question in advance. “China has shown it will carry out law enforcement action against the Philippines to the extent of causing collisions with Philippine boats. The Philippines is looking for help. Will the U.S. help or will it continue to merely monitor the situation on the basis that gray zone operations do not bring about obligations under the MDT?”
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Okay, thank you for your question. And so while I cannot comment directly on the U.S. response, again, I will say that the U.S. will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows. These actions are destabilizing and they threaten the region’s security and prosperity. And this is why our primary focus is on strengthening deterrence in collaboration with our growing network of allies and partners. And we remain focused on building and strengthening international relationships both in preparation for and in response to disaster emergencies.
MODERATOR: We have just a few more minutes left for questions, so this next one will go to Joseph Thaddeus Morong. Please unmute and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Can you hear me?
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Yes.
QUESTION: Hello? Yeah, alright. Cool. Would the U.S. Navy be interested in joining the rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine coast guard?
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Hi, Joseph. Sorry.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: I had the mute on. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s all right. That’s all right. Should I repeat my question?
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Yes, please do.
QUESTION: Okay. So right now, the ones that are involved in the resupply missions in the Second Thomas Shoal are the Philippine coast guard primarily, but there have been ISR help from the U.S. State Department. My question is: Would the U.S. Navy be interested in a more proactive role in the sense that it will join the resupply missions in the Second Thomas Shoal just to send a message that the Philippines maybe is not alone in maintaining the (inaudible) there?
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Okay, Joe. Thank you so much for your question. And I just want to say that our government has reaffirmed that we have a strong U.S.-Philippine alliance, which is vital to the free and open Indo-Pacific region, and that we’ll continue to partner closely with the Philippines. And I do want to say that our relations are based on strong historical and cultural linkages, and a shared commitment to democracy and human rights. These strong people-to-people ties and economic cooperation provide additional avenues to engage on bilateral and regional and global issues. And it’s like our alliance continues to contribute to the security of our two nations while also strengthening the rules-based order that benefits all nations within the Indo-Pacific. Thank you again for your question.
MODERATOR: And our last question will go to David Santos from CNN Philippines. Please unmute and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I think we spoke to you, ma’am, in La Unión a few months back when Pacific Partnership was here. I would like to ask, we are – the Philippines is marking the 10th year since Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the eastern Philippines, and we know that Pacific Partnership or the U.S. Government in general was part in that multinational response during that particular catastrophe. I know that our security and defense alliance is largely focused on joint trainings, sharing of intelligence information, enhancing our defense capabilities. But can you talk to us how HADR – humanitarian assistance and disaster response – has played a key role in enhancing that defense alliance? Thank you very much.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Hi, David. Thank you. And yes, I do remember our conversations when we were in San Fernando. And thank you for your question. I will say that having – having our continued cooperation through humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is one of the ways that we can continue to promote greater cooperation and our partnership. It’s one of those things where it’s almost a base level to continue and moving forward. Because it’s something that we’re – no matter what we’re going to have to respond to it. It’s like when we go out, we have this mission to where the hope is that we can become recovery and relief experts in order to better assist each other as we prepare for the next catastrophic events. And the goal is that we continue to work together and respond in a crisis.
MODERATOR: That brings us to the end of our time for today. If you have any closing remarks, Captain Caluori, I’ll turn it back over to you.
CAPTAIN CALUORI: Yes, thank you so much. I just want to kind of highlight a few of the things that we’ve done. Well, multilateral missions like Pacific Partnerships are based on the common goal of enhancing regional stability with allies and partners, and it’s a unifying mission that fosters enduring friendships and cooperation among many nations. And I just want to give a few statistics.
I mean, so far over the last 3 months, we have conducted over 489 events, 316 of which were medical. We’ve done 99 outreach events. We’ve done 34 HADR symposiums and tabletop exercises. And our engineers have conducted over 38 renovation and new construction projects so far.
And I just want to say that having this Pacific Partnership continues to build trust among nations to work effectively together, and it’s crucial to maintaining peace and stability in the region. Thank you again for everyone.
MODERATOR: Thank you to the participants for your questions today, and thank you to Captain Caluori for joining us, and thanks to your team as well from the Pacific Partnership 2023. We will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback and you can contact us at any time at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thank you again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon.
Listen here: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Digital-Press-Briefing-with-Captain-Claudine-Caluori-U.S.-Navy-Mission-Commander-of-Pacific-Partnership-2023.m4a