ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Fullerton Lecture Series (Hosted by IISS) On “Ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific”
As Prepared Remarks
Thank you Dr. Huxley for the kind introduction.
Ladies and Gentlemen, ministers, permanent secretaries, members of the diplomatic corps, the armed forces, distinguished guests, and friends -- good evening.
It is my distinct honor to deliver this 36th Fullerton Lecture in the iconic Fullerton Hotel this evening. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the importance of ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific; and how the men and women of United States Indo-Pacific Command are working alongside our allies, partners, and friends to manage challenges, address crises, and prevent conflict.
I intend to speak a bit more than just about the security domain, because the United States is also increasingly tying together a whole of government approach to address Indo-Pacific challenges and absolutely looking to enhance our partnerships with all countries – big and small.
But before we begin, I would like to thank Dr. Tim Huxley, Alex Neill, Dr. William Choong, and the entire IISS staff for inviting me to deliver this evening’s Fullerton Lecture.
It does not escape me that this building has been both sentry and bellwether to the political, economic, and social tides of change from 1928 through colonialism, World War II, independence, the Cold War, and now the 21st century modernization we see today.
I must also note the astounding development trajectory of the self-ascribed “Little Red Dot” at the tip of the Malay Peninsula – from its founding 200 years ago, to the economic and political marvel that is the powerful city-state of Singapore today. It is an astounding trajectory.
This is after all a city-state that is economically dependent on trade and open commons for its livelihood, and a city-state firmly defended by the strength, might, and power of the Singapore Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense. Made just a bit more powerful this with the announcement of the Nation’s F-35 intent this past week.
Singapore is the 2nd largest port in the world, and one could argue home to the most vital transit point in the world—connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans through the Straits of Malacca. Indeed, I often joke that Singapore puts the “dash” between “Indo” and “Pacific.”
So, I am thankful for this opportunity to communicate our ongoing efforts especially given all that has taken place in the region over the last two weeks. More on that in a moment.
You may recall President Trump announced a vision - or end-state - for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” when he traveled to the region in late 2017, and Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and others have further defined that vision since then.
While the term “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” is new, the underlying values and principles to which the vision speaks, I would argue, are not – in fact, this is how the U.S. has approached the region throughout our 240-plus year history.
Further, we are seeing now, a general convergence around the idea of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific -- or as Singapore might say, a “free, open, and inclusive regional architecture.”
Just this past year, speaking here in Singapore, Indian Prime Minister Modi affirmed India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific as a “free, open, and inclusive” region as part of India’s ACT EAST policy.
Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have all put forth similar concepts or visions, and Indonesia is leading an effort within ASEAN to elaborate one as well.
Although there are some differences in how this vision is communicated, there is a growing agreement on how to define a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and the principles of freedom, sovereignty, and openness.
When we say “Free”, we mean both in terms of security – being free from coercion by other nations – and in terms of values and political systems.
Free societies respect individual rights and liberties, the promotion of good governance; and adherence to the shared values of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Free” means nations do not have to choose who they trade with and who they partner with because of fear or coercion. They are free instead to exercise their sovereignty – and their choice.
An “Open” Indo-Pacific means we believe all nations should enjoy unfettered access to the seas and airways upon which our people and economies depend.
Open includes open investment environments, transparent agreements between nations, protection of intellectual property rights, and fair and reciprocal trade – all of which are essential for people, goods and capital to move across borders for the shared benefit of all.
This convergence around the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific is needed to maintain prosperity and to prevent conflict.
I believe we saw a clear indicator of this at the end of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November, when President Trump, Prime Minister Modi, and Prime Minister Abe met to discuss shared views of the Indo-Pacific.
This landmark U.S. – India – Japan meeting clearly highlighted the possibilities for strengthening the foundation of a free and open Indo-Pacific through cooperative advancement of shared values, principles, and common interests.
As we think about the potential for this future, it is important to reflect on the recent past. You have heard me say, for more than 70 years, the Indo-Pacific has been largely peaceful.
This was made possible by two things: the willingness and commitment of free nations to work together in the rules based international order, and the credibility of the combat power of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, working alongside the militaries of allies and partners.
This commitment, and this credibility, have worked to liberate hundreds of millions, as well as literally lift billions of people out of poverty, all to a level of prosperity previously unseen in human history.
And, for the United States, this commitment and this credibility remain as firm as ever. We are here – as your partners – for the long term.
You all very aware of our military presence in the region, but it bears mentioning as our commitment continues today: 60% of U.S. Navy ships, 55% of our Army forces, and 2/3 of our Marine forces are in the Indo-Pacific, and we are soon to have 60% of the total tactical aviation assets.
Additionally, the United States holds some 90-named military exercises in the Indo-Pacific each year. The vast majority of these exercises are conducted jointly and/or combined with our partners and allies.
These forces and these exercises work with militaries from across the region in everything from real time humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief (e.g., Super Typhoon Yutu in Saipan/ Tinian, Earthquake/ Tsunami in Sulawesi, and Thai Cave Rescue) all the way up to the full spectrum of conventional warfare skills to deter our adversaries.
But the United States is more than a security partner in this region.
The United States is also the largest foreign direct investor in the ASEAN region, with roughly $306 billion in cumulative investment (more than the U.S. investment in China, India, South Korea, and Japan combined), and the United States is ASEAN’s third largest trading partner.
For the U.S., the ten nations of ASEAN, taken together, would be our 4th largest trading partner for goods.
U.S.-ASEAN bilateral trade has increased 78% since 2004, from $153 billion to $273 billion, and annually grew at a rate of 5%.
The United States also has a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore and maintains bilateral-Trade and Investment Framework Agreements with Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
So whether we are talking about security or our economic interests, the United States continues to demonstrate the staying power that makes us an enduring power in the region.
So, we indeed are a Pacific nation – in every sense of the word.
For those who may continue to doubt our commitment to ensuring strategic stability, security and prosperity for our partners and for the broader Indo-Pacific today, tomorrow, and long into the future, let me review some calendar entries from U.S. engagement over the last two weeks alone.
As you have all heard, there was a summit recently in Vietnam. I want to tell you we invested to accomplish something big. After three weeks of direct working-level negotiations between the United States and the DPRK, President Trump held several hours of negotiations supported by the Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, Special Representative Biegun, and more. While we did not reach an agreement with the DPRK, we exchanged detailed positions, narrowed the gap on a number of issues, and made clear that the United States still expects final, fully verified denuclearization.
We remain ready to engage in constructive negotiation with the DPRK, we remain shoulder to shoulder on the ground with our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan, we remain united with the international community that UNSC sanctions should remain in place and be fully enforced, and we remain tightly knit with partners, friends and the international community writ large to make sure that happens.
As telltale, this very moment, the United States, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom are operating ships and aircraft in support of UN sanctions enforcement; We have also received support from Australia, France, New Zealand, and Canada as well, with equipment and/or personnel operating in the Enforcement Coordination Cell in Yokosuka, Japan. This enforcement operation is critical to our diplomatic efforts with DPRK and remains my top tactical priority.
Let me turn now to South Asia. On February 14, a terrorist attack in Pulwama killed 40 Indian paramilitary forces. An Indian counter-terrorist response in Pakistan followed on February 26. The crisis that ensued captured the world’s attention. The United States invested again heavily to help prevent a crisis from escalating and to stand with our partners in countering terrorism. During the crisis, I spoke to India’s Chief of Defense, Admiral Lanba, three times in the past 10 days to emphasize our shared goal of peace and security for the region. The Secretary of State and Acting Secretary of Defense engaged repeatedly. Since then, we have made it clear to Pakistan that it must take concrete actions against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) to decisively and irreversibly address the terrorist activity on their soil.
Our words are supported by deeds. Along with France and the UK, we also proposed to have the U.N. Security Council designate Mazood Azhar as a global terrorist and we continue to press for that to happen. We helped ensure the Financial Committee to take action against JeM as well.
In other words, it is clear that we stand for peace and security with our partners in the Indo-Pacific.
Thirdly, let me turn to Southeast Asia, where Secretary Pompeo met with President Duterte and the Foreign Secretary recently in the Philippines. In unambiguous terms, he reaffirmed our commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of the Philippines.
The Philippines, like so many in the region depends upon free and unobstructed access to the seas, and China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten their sovereignty, security, and economic reality.
As such, Secretary Pompeo assured last week, “as the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Our steadfast support for our ally is also underscored by President Trump’s commitment to defeating radical Islamic terrorism there. When terrorists seized Marawi in 2017, the U.S. responded immediately with military support as well as with relief and rehabilitation programs.
For those who question our commitment, it is clear that our engagement is as enduring as the sea itself.
Through defense diplomacy, deterrence, and collective action, we have worked together to assure our allies and partners, manage crises and prevent conflict – in the last two weeks alone.
I think it demonstrates what a reliable, committed, partner, friend and ally looks like. A friend that is committed to protecting and preserving the incredible multi-national, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious tapestry of this diverse group in front of me tonight.
The Indo-Pacific is one of the largest and most diverse regions on Earth. These differences are our strength, and the thousands of miles of ocean and sky between us do not divide us, they are the connective elements that bind us together.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command remains committed to working with all those who share our vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific – an inclusive vision that ensures all rise with the tide.
As we move forward, there are three areas that are key to maintaining the momentum toward a free and open Indo-Pacific.
First, we value the substantial and growing role ASEAN plays in regional and global security.
The United States and ASEAN share common principles of a rules-based international order, respect for international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, and we continue to seek ways to improve multilateral security engagements and advance stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Much as Vice President Pence said last fall: “We know that our prosperity, security and our future are forever intertwined with the institution of ASEAN and its member states in Southeast Asia.”
ASEAN is at its strongest - in preventing conflict and addressing strategic competition - when it is united. And we are committed to supporting and advancing the unity and centrality of ASEAN to strengthen and shape the security order.
ASEAN remains central to our efforts to ensure peace and underwrite prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and “we are proud of our partnership at every level past, present, and future.”
One concrete way we demonstrate that support is through the regional diplomatic mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and Defense Minister’s Meeting-Plus, which are leading the way in disaster planning and mitigation, providing excellent opportunities to share best practices and improve coordination of disaster relief efforts.
I am also looking forward to an ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise later this year as we continue to build and strengthen our relationships, and demonstrate the United States’ steadfast commitment to the region.
We look forward to further articulation of ASEAN’s vision for the future of the Indo-Pacific and what an ASEAN-led, open, and inclusive regional architecture might be.
I believe our interests are aligned in this perspective on maintaining relations with all, and expanding opportunities for collaboration and cooperation wherever possible.
Second, we can use greater interoperability and information-sharing to ensure we collectively uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
This week I saw first-hand the power and potential in information sharing when I visited the Information Fusion Center and the Regional Humanitarian Coordination Cell, here in Singapore. There I saw the collaborative contributions of 18 countries including the Peoples’ Republic of China in addressing maritime security and responding to potential humanitarian crisis response.
The Singapore hosted Information Fusion Centre works daily with open source information. They make sense of the information and share the analysis internationally to address challenges in the maritime environment like illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU); theft, robbery and piracy at sea; and illegal human trafficking, all in an effort to reduce the frequency of maritime incidents and developing constructive engagements with commercial shipping.
The ASEAN led Regional Humanitarian Coordination Centre works to integrate the military response efforts to natural and manmade disasters to more rapidly provide the urgent supplies, essential care, and initial recovery efforts to alleviate human suffering. Through robust collaboration and information sharing with the UN led-Multinational Coordination Cell (MNCC) in the affected country, the RHCC has effectively assisted with the response to the Nepal earthquake in 2015 and recently in the response to the earthquake/tsunami in Sulawesi, Indonesia.
In addition to the ASEAN information sharing efforts, the Maritime Security Initiative has been instrumental in helping nations across ASEAN build capacity to monitor their territorial waters and provide intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance efforts in the areas like the Sulu Sea where partner nations can assist one another address transnational threats.
The U.S. Navy has also announced additional efforts to partner with maritime nations to build awareness and enhance the ability of nations to share what could be time sensitive and vital information, especially in those areas where the sea lanes of communications are most congested and at risk.
Let me take just a moment to mention Oceania or what I like to call “The Blue Continent” and the opportunity we have to help link ASEAN to the Western Hemisphere.
While these countries have rich cultures, they are home to some of the most isolated populations in the world and a large portion of the protein stocks the rest of the world depends upon.
By helping these nations manage their resources and secure their EEZs we can reduce much of the transnational crime that emerges in the form of human trafficking, drug trafficking and illegal unregulated, unreported fishing.
Information sharing means that we trust enough to share what we see, and sense to contribute to the underlying system that underpins the security of all.
True to the axiom that information is power, information sharing provides the power of trust and transparency, the power of possibilities and opportunities, and ultimately the power to change the trajectory of crises and prevent conflict.
That is our common cause: to Collaborate and Cooperate to see, sense, and secure stability of our region.
Third, we will use a whole of Government Approach to address regional challenges.
It was here in Singapore, that Secretary Pompeo made keynote announcements about the future of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation or OPIC, presaging the U.S. BUILD Act, and the formation of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation—key developments to better address the infrastructure challenges necessary for sustained economic growth and development in this region unleashing the strength of private enterprise.
President and CEO of OPIC, David Bohegian, also announced the formation of a trilateral agreement between the United States, Australia, and Japan to “discuss opportunities for collaboration on investments in the Indo-Pacific that would build infrastructure, address key development challenges, increase connectivity and promote economic growth.”
There is more to come here from both the U.S. perspective – and the international – but it is clear to us that the power of private enterprise is the key to development in the region. (Pause). If I could just add…
Many of these broader efforts have been enabled by the tireless diplomacy of Singapore.
2018 was a “banner” year for Singapore. The historic President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un “Singapore Summit”; attending to the responsibilities as chair of ASEAN are just two…every major U.S. leader visited this country: President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, and a slew of other senior department officials, politicians, and prominent business leaders to name just a few. And that was just the United States.
Proof that even small countries have a great role to play in the evolving political, economic, and security architectures of the 21st Century.
Thank you, Singapore for your support to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
In conclusion, the long arc of history will bend towards a Free and Open Indo-Pacific built on the foundational principles of mutual security, values, and interests that underpinned the international rules based order.
We will do our part, and we challenge others to do the same—to ensure Free and Open remain the defining characteristics of the Indo-Pacific, now and into the future.
I look forward to taking your questions, and hearing your perspectives on how we can work together to collectively address our shared regional challenges.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak here tonight, and I look forward to our discussion.